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Polk County Sets Health Priorities For the Next Three Years


For the next three years, the health and wellness priorities for the citizens of Polk County, NC, will be mental health, substance misuse, and prenatal care. These are the priorities health professionals will focus on as a result of a community survey and the collective brainpower of local healthcare leaders.

              Officially, the process is called Community Health Assessment--Prioritization. The State of North Carolina requires county health departments to carry out a Community Health Assessment and to develop an action plan as a contingency of accreditation. In addition, the federal IRS requires nonprofit hospitals to conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment every three years and to adopt an implementation strategy. In Polk County the hospital is St. Luke’s Hospital.

              “The Community Health Assessment process is a valuable tool that we use in Polk County,” Polk County Health & Wellness Coalition’s Executive Director and Polk County’s Population Health Manager Haley Suskauer said. “It allows us to identify the gaps in services, and work with our community partners to best meet the needs of our neighbors. We look forward to developing equitable solutions with our partners to address the unique health needs of our community over the next two to three years.”

              The past summer and fall -- during the COVID-19 pandemic -- the Polk County Health and Human Services Agency worked with WNC Healthy Impact to collect data from regional and local sources. To ensure a comprehensive understanding, the data included both secondary (existing) and primary (newly collected) data. The data contained the WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey (cell phone, landline and internet-based survey) of a random sample of adults in the county. Online key informant survey data was also analyzed. In addition to the three top priorities, citizens were also concerned about active living and healthy eating, which have been past priorities. With the raw data collected, the agency selected a group of key partners to discuss the data and to determine which key health issues would be the new priorities. The participants analyzed the data and reviewed facts and circumstances of our community to score each issue, and then vote for their top areas of concern. They considered the severity of the issue, the relevancy of the issue, and the feasibility in improving the issue. This process, often called health issue prioritization, is an opportunity for various community stakeholders to agree on which health issues and results we can all contribute to, which increases the likelihood that we’ll make a difference in the lives of people in our community.

              “This year, Polk County will start another three-year process to improve the health and wellbeing of the community,” Kennedy said after the meeting. “While the numeric data points tell a story about our community, it is important to note that these data points are a story about our families, neighbors, and friends.  Negative health outcomes cost both lives and resources, and we owe it to ourselves and the community to focus on these issues so that we have a healthier tomorrow.”

              With priorities set, community healthcare professionals will develop a Community Health Improvement Plan and Action Plan to find ways to implement real-world changes in the community that align with the three priorities.

              In the third and final phase of the process, the Polk County Health and Human Services Agency will produce a State of the County Health Report on what was accomplished toward addressing the priorities.

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