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Editorial: Rowan’s greatest needs are closely related

Which comes first, the chicken’s drug abuse or his emotional and mental problems? Or his unhealthy living habits?

The top priorities identified by a recent United Way assessment don’t really have anything to do with chickens, but you get the idea. Rowan County residents have closely intertwined needs when it comes to substance use, mental health and healthy lifestyles behavior. Improve our status on any one of those areas, and you could well have a positive impact on the others. It’s hard to know where to start.

The good news is that several agencies are poised to address all three at once — and they’re eager to recruit volunteers to help with the effort.

Another plus: The assessment included these proposed action plans that make the challenges seem less intractable:

Substance use

• Develop a Quick Response Team with a social worker, police officer and peer specialist.

• Develop prevention and education programs that are trauma-informed for all ages.

• Increase harm-reduction programs such as syringe exchanges and naloxone distribution.

• Establish a live info map of overdoses to help target reduction efforts.

• Establish a detox and long-term treatment center in Rowan.

• Increase the number of addiction treatment and counseling service providers that provide free or low-cost care.

Mental health

• Explore an anti-stigma campaign.

• Expand free and low-cost services through grant-funded or faith-based services.

• Establish a Quick Response Team with a social worker, police officer and peer specialist.

• Start a step-down program for inmates, 60-90 days out of jail, by teaching how to navigate health care, live independently and other skills to help them transition back into the community.

• Explore the Project Re-Entry model for possible expansion in Rowan.

• Create a provider collaborative to increase awareness and facilitate referrals.

• Expand agencies involved in mental health work to the school system, prison administration and law enforcement.

Healthy lifestyle behaviors

• Target uninsured, high-poverty areas with no/low cost food and recreation options for all ages.

• Target behaviors through employee wellness program with hands-on cooking classes, parenting classes and “exercise vs. medicine.”

• Start healthy lifestyle clubs that organize activities like exercise, healthy food shares, food prep and coaching.

• Make Rowan a smoke-free county.

• Promote anti-vape and anti-smoking campaign in schools.

• Establish community gardens, promote farmers markets, advocate for healthy food in corner stores and seek grants to address food insecurity.

• Increase sidewalk connections, bike lanes and greenway access.

Kudos to the United Way, Novant Health, Healthy Rowan and the Health Department for partnering to bring about the Community Health and Human Services Needs Assessment, conducted by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

They have provided a road map to overcome some of Rowan County’s most serious challenges — challenges that impact our workforce and our quality of life. These should be all residents’ top priorities.

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