County health department releases annual ‘State of the County Health Report’

Published 12:10 am Friday, May 10, 2024

ROWAN COUNTY — The Rowan County Health Department released the 2023 State of the County Health Report, a report updating progress made on health initiatives and the status of the community’s health needs that is required by the state to be filed almost annually.

The SOTCH report is a shorter version of the Community Health Needs Assessment, a comprehensive report that the health department must file every three or four years. Rowan County’s most recent CHNA was filed for 2021, and the timeline on the SOTCH lists the next one as occurring in 2025.

Part of the requirements of the report is updating information about any new or ongoing programs the department is running. Programs the health department included were harm reduction programs, the Rowan County Smile Center, environmental health quality programs and new regional public health initiatives.

The Smile Center is aimed at assisting youth throughout the county with dental health, and the SOTCH report highlights the recent resumption of the school dental clinics. In October, the mobile dental clinic visited Morgan Elementary School and provided a week of free dental screenings and treatment, which reached 39 students, some of whom were also referred to the Smile Center for follow-up treatment needs.

The harm prevention program, centered around HOPE or Harm reduction-Outreach-Prevention-Education, is aimed at the rising issue of drug addiction in the community. The SOTCH report stated that in 2023, 3,040 doses of Narcan were distributed, the Post-Overdose Response Team made 1,278 contacts with individuals and the department opened a safe syringe program in December.

The report also notes issues that have continued or begun to emerge in 2023 such as hesitancy around vaccine programs, communicable disease outbreaks and substance use among adolescents.

The report stated that vaccine hesitancy among North Carolinians has been a major factor in recent outbreaks of diseases such as the measles.

“In response to this emerging issue, RCPH will be focusing on combating misinformation, promoting child and adult immunizations and educating community members about health department services, such as our immunization clinic,” said the department in the report.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic made the recent collection of data involving adolescents impossible, the report stated that conversations between the department and parents, teachers and other school staff indicates that substance use, especially THC or CBD usage, has increased greatly within the past year among adolescents.

The report gave the health department’s proposed solution to help combat the problem, which includes collecting data through community partners and implementing substance use preventative initiatives aimed at adolescents.

“Through community collaboration and innovative public health program, Rowan County Public Health will be addressing these emerging issues before they become priority health issues,” the department said in a news release accompanying the released report.

Most of the communicative disease outbreaks were in long-term care facilities according to statistics, with 2023 bringing 19 respiratory illness outbreaks and one gastrointestinal disease outbreak. The report also brings up a decrease in yearly congenital syphilis cases, with the 50 instances being down from 2022. The department also saw slight decreases in gonorrhea and chlamydia cases and a slight increase in total syphilis cases.

The report also highlights other areas of emphasis that the department has worked in, including the Rowan Moves program. Five hundred people are listed as being registered for the program. Rowan County Public Health has also partnered with seven schools to set up a daily mile program and with six municipalities to identify safe outdoor walking spaces and set up signage for those spaces. The department has also placed an emphasis on mental health and suicide prevention, holding multiple training programs in the area and working with local law enforcement departments to display bilingual 988, the suicide and crisis hotline number, stickers on their vehicles.

The release notes that the county did not see significant statistical changes in causes of sickness and death between 2022 and 2023. The release also cites the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation rankings, which place the county in the 50th percentile in both health factors and health outcomes.