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County residents' health lacking in many areas

The Citrus County Health Department recently asked WellFlorida Council, our health planning council, to review the county's health profile and lead focus groups. In focus group sessions, county residents were asked to give their thoughts about health and health services. These talks allowed the Health Department to see the "human" side of the issues. It also gave people a chance to tell us much more than just what the numbers say.

This was done because of the most important jobs of the county and state health departments is to keep an eye on the health of the people they serve. This is called surveillance and is done often by collecting data from many places, including birth and death certificates, reports on contagious diseases, population facts and surveys. The information helps us know who our residents are and helps us better see the health-related trends and needs in our county.

What does the health of Citrus County look like? Let's look at some of the things that affect our health:

Citrus County has a smaller percentage of people ages 0-44 than the state of Florida. The county has almost twice the state's percentage of those older than 45. The county's median age is higher than the state of Florida's.

Citrus County has a much smaller percentage of Asian, black and Hispanic people than the state.

The county's median household income is much lower than the state.

According to the review done by the WellFlorida Council, Citrus County has barriers that make it harder to obtain health care. These factors include a shortage of doctors, the percentage of people without insurance, the unemployment rate, the percentage of the population 5 years of age or older who speak a language other than English at home, and the length of time to access low-income housing.

Citrus County is designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area. The county lacks 27 specialty physicians and 13 primary care physicians to meet its needs. Lack of specialty care is sending most patients out of the county for care.

The council's focus groups' answers show what people are experiencing. They said that transportation, money, not enough doctors and limited eligibility were the main problems that make it harder to get health services. The hospital emergency rooms, Citrus County Health Department and the VA were noted as primary places to find health care services. Less wait time, better communication, less paperwork and more available doctors were suggested as ways to help reduce problems obtaining health care.

Community leaders were also interviewed. They cited too few services to meet the growing population. And a lack of pediatricians, Medicare doctors and dentists were listed as the most pressing concerns.

In Citrus County, we have a higher percentage than the state of adults who smoke. The percentage of women who have had a pap smear in the last two years is lower than the state. The county has a higher rate of people who are overweight or obese and more adults who have no leisure time physical activity.

Some of the health statistics that are monitored are listed here:

Health indicators in which Citrus County's results are worse than the state of Florida include: cancer deaths, people hospitalized for asthma, diabetes deaths, the rate of poor nutrition, coronary heart disease deaths, obesity rate, suicide deaths, unintentional injury deaths (motor vehicle accidents, falls, etc.), the percent of elderly, respiratory disease deaths, liver disease deaths, and hospitalizations that could have been avoided if people got care sooner.

On the other hand, when compared to the state of Florida, Citrus County looks better for: the percentage of low birth weight babies, the infant mortality rate, the rate of teenagers giving birth, the rate of women who begin prenatal care late in their pregnancy, the rate of people hospitalized for depression, the hypertension death rate, the number of AIDS cases, and the immunization rate.

For communicable diseases, Citrus County's rates for sexually transmitted infections are lower than the state's, but this is increasing. The county's rate for tuberculosis is lower than the state's. When compared to the state, Citrus County's rate of intestinal infections in children under age 6 is slightly more. Death rates from pneumonia and influenza for Citrus County and the state are about the same. The county's rate for animal rabies is higher than the state of Florida.

The Citrus County Health Department's Web site http://www.citruscountyhealth.org/ is full of information on health and Health Department services. By clicking on Community Events at the top of the Web page you can see the results of our December 2003 Comprehensive Health Needs Assessment. By clicking on the link at the bottom, Health Data Charts, you will be linked to the Florida Department of Health site. This site allows you to look at numerous health factors and even make your own reports.

In summary, Citrus County residents could do a better job of participating in activities that help to prevent health problems and promote health. Obtaining health care, including care for mental health issues, is a concern for many in our community.

Your Health Department is concerned about these problems, too. Staffers at the Health Department are working on the information by offering programs and community partnerships designed to promote healthy and safe living, and prevent disease. The programs and partnerships are part of what is called the Local Public Health System. This system is made up of everyone (individuals, businesses and organizations) in the county that has an influence on health. Citrus Partnership in Health is made up of partners in this system and was formed with plans to work as a comprehensive health improvement advisory board.

EDITOR'S NOTE

This public service information was provided by Virginia "Ginni" Crandall, RN, BSN, MPH, Senior Community Health Nurse Supervisor Epidemiology / Communicable Disease for the Citrus County Health Department, 3700 W Sovereign Path. If you would like to attend the next partnership meeting, or if you have questions about this article, please call 527-0068, ext. 240.

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