Report: Rowan residents apathetic about health problems

Published 12:10 am Sunday, May 1, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Do Rowan County residents care about local health problems? A recently released report suggests the answer is no.

Conducted by the Rowan County Health Department and Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, the report ranks obesity, tobacco use and mental health as the most significant health issues in Rowan County. However, there’s another notable finding in the report — a “lack of interest in and ownership of health.” For example, 43.5 percent of survey-takers responded “don’t know” or didn’t answer questions in the community issues section.

“Rowan County ranks, now and historically, in the middle or is not in a danger area in many of the health indicators,” the report states. “The lack of danger can cause a community to become complacent, accepting or both. Participation in the public survey also provided validation that people are not as interested in their individual health or the overall health of the county.”

When asked about the report, Health Department Allied Health Manager Steve Joslin said community organizations are working to improve the health of local residents. The information and recommendations distributed by local agencies, Joslin said, simply isn’t sticking with Rowan residents.

“They shake their heads and thats the end of it,” Joslin said. “We are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.”

What are our health problems?

The recently released report — called the 2015 Community Health Assessment — is required every three years. Priority areas for the latest report are similar to results from one conducted in 2012. The previous report determined the most significant health priorities to be: dental care, medical care, chronic disease, teen pregnancy, physical fitness and drug abuse.

Instead of determining individual health problems — teen pregnancy for example — the most recent report places a priority on umbrella topics and associated diseases. Joslin said it’s important to note the 2015 report is the first time mental health has ranked high enough to be declared a priority. The mental health priority includes items such as prescription drug abuse and illegal drug use.

“It’s something we really need to address, especially when it gets into illegal drug use,” he said. “People are dying from that and prescription drug abuse.”

The report found deaths from opiates — which include heroin and oxycodone — resulted in 280 Rowan County deaths from 1999 to 2014. In 2011, opiate poisoning deaths reached a peak — 29. In 2014, a total of 23 people died from opiate poisoning.

In a public survey conducted for the report, respondents rated illegal drug use as tied for third among all health problems. Abuse of prescription drugs was fourth in the public survey.

Rowan County’s death rate from drug poisoning is 75 percent higher than the state average and higher than most peer counties.

Joslin said prescription return boxes are one way to help improve the rate of opiate poisoning deaths.

Other priority areas in the report are obesity — including diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke — and tobacco — including respiratory illness and various forms of cancer.

The report found a large majority of Rowan County residents — 83 percent — have adequate access to exercise opportunities, but most aren’t getting enough physical activity. The percentage of adults getting adequate activity is 39.4 percent, according to the report. That’s 7 percent lower than the state average.

“These factors clearly show that there are sufficient opportunities to exercise, but Rowan citizens are not utilizing them,” the report states.

What’s the solution?

The solution to health problems Rowan faces isn’t simple, Joslin said. It takes churches, nonprofits, community institutions, government officials and the general community, he said.

“It takes an entire county to solve these problems,” he said.

One agency he mentioned was Healthy Rowan, a collection of community organizations. The sheriff’s office, Rowan County Department of Social Services, Rowan-Salisbury School System, Smoke Free Rowan, the United Way and Novant Health Rowan Medical Center are just a few. Healthy Rowan’s slogan is that “a healthy community is everyone’s business.”

In a statement provided to the Salisbury Post, Novant Health Rowan Medical Center President Dari Caldwell said the hospital intentionally forms “strategic collaborations with local groups such as the YMCA, local churches, and other community groups to help address specific social problems while also providing an intervention for the identified health need.”

Caldwell noted that the hospital provides free education on topics that include diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. The hospital will also provide courses that help people quit smoking, according to the statement.

Education is a solution, but it only works if people care, according to the report.

“Most of the problems the county is experiencing, such as obesity, are long term problems,” the report states. “These situations can cause a community to become complacent, accepting or both. When complacency and acceptance set in, it is difficult to cause change or create momentum toward change. This presents a huge challenge to those who are trying to improve the health and wellness of the county residents.”

An example of positive change?

When asked about the report, County Commissioner Judy Klusman, said “leading by example” is one way county government officials could help improve the health of local residents. She also emphasized a familiar point — efforts to improve health only work if people care.

“It’s not like we can force anybody to be healthy,” she said.

Klusman, who sits on the Health Department and Social Services boards, specifically mentioned a wellness incentive program for county employees as “leading by example.” The wellness incentive is included in the benefits package for county employees. It provides $500 to an employee that reduces their waist size by a certain amount.

The wellness incentive was approved in December 2015 and will be given to qualifying employees in December 2016.

She said Rowan County commissioners can also work to increase access to public parks.

For a full copy of Rowan County’s 2015 Community Health Assessment, visit the Heath Department’s website at, click on the Healthy Rowan link on the left side of the page and scroll down the page to the Health Department’s logo. A link to the report is immediately below the logo.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.