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Needs assessment identifies substance abuse, mental health, healthy lifestyle behaviors as top priorities

SALISBURY — Through information from public opinion surveys, focus groups and statistical data provided by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, substance abuse, mental health and healthy lifestyle behaviors were identified as priorities in the Rowan County United Way needs assessment.

Matt Simon and Erin Magee of the Gillings School presented their findings Tuesday and explained the data and conversations they used to determine the three top priorities.

“The top three weren’t a surprise to anyone,” said Jackie Harris, associate director of the local United Way.

Simon and Magee compared the numbers to those from two other counties, Gaston and Davidson, and the state, while providing targets that the county should work toward over the next several years.

Steve Fisher, chairman of F&M Bank, agreed with Harris that now it’s time to figure out a way to improve the numbers.

“I don’t think there are any surprises on here: substance abuse, mental health, healthy lifestyles behaviors,” Fisher said. “We all see it every day. Now we have some proof that these are issues that we have to deal with, but (Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem David Post) asked the question earlier. It wasn’t the question for the day, but it’s the right question every day after: How do we fix that? I don’t have those answers, but those answers exist collectively.” 

Harris said with the information from Tuesday’s presentation, committees will be formed.

Alyssa Smith, executive director of Healthy Rowan and one of the partners in the project, said work to reach the goals has already begun.

“We have coalitions working on these issues of mental health, substance abuse and healthy lifestyle behavior,” Smith said. “It’s really important that we get this information out, but also good that we are working on this already. We got some ideas and motion in the plan. We can always use more help and more understanding and responsibility throughout the community for this work.”

Those at Tuesday’s meeting had an opportunity to fill out a card to volunteer to help with the committees. Fisher said he knows everyone in the room is dedicated but now has motivation after the presentation given by Simon and Magee.

“Your interest is already piqued,” Fisher said. “You’re up at 8 o’clock here listening to this, and I know many of the faces in the room working in this space, so we need this group involved. But we also need a larger group involved. How many of you have broken a bone before anywhere on your body? OK, you broke it. What did you do? You went to the doctor and got an X-ray. That’s what this is. You knew that it was broken, but you went to get it proven. Here’s proof.”

The needs assessment will show the United Way where it should concentrate funding. In 2020, including the 2019 campaign, funding for agencies will be primarily based on the three priorities of substance abuse, mental health and healthy lifestyle. Harris said this is to make more of an impact. 

“All these things are about drilling down a little more specifically,” Harris said.

The previous needs assessment was done in 2012, identifying medical and dental care; educational training and achievement; and availability, access and training for jobs as the county’s top priorities. 

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