Gaston County among unhealthiest counties in NC - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Gaston County among unhealthiest counties in NC

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GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) -

Gaston County continues to rank extremely low in overall community health.
 
According to rankings released on March 16, 2014, by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Gaston County continues to have mixed results in its measures of community health.
 
Since the release of last year's rankings, it has improved on several measures, while it has slipping on others.  Critically, the health of Gaston County residents is not improving as quickly as other North Carolina counties.
 
The rankings show that Gaston County has improved two spots in a statewide ranking of county health outcomes, from 81st to 79th out of 100 counties. Health outcomes are a measure of illness and early death.
 
However, in a ranking of health factors – which measure the infrastructure and resources necessary for a county to be healthy – Gaston dropped four spots from 61st to 65th best out of 100 counties.
 
"We are grateful for the improvements we're seeing, but they are modest. Our community has considerable work to do to achieve our goals of being a healthier county with a higher quality of life," said Health & Human Services Director Chris Dobbins.
 
Gaston's health outcome measures improved slightly, with a slight drop in poor mental health days and low birth weight babies, with measure of premature death, poor or fair health days, and poor physical health days the same or slightly changed. Among health factors, there was a substantial increase in sexually transmitted infections. 
 
Additionally, were improvements in the ratio of primary care physicians and dentists to county residents, preventable hospital stays and in the violent crime rate.
 
"Despite the encouraging data, especially in clinical care measures, Gaston County continues to trail other urban counties that are similar to Gaston," said Robert Spencer, Executive Director of Gaston Family Health Services, the county's federally qualified community health center. "This leaves us asking what are other counties doing to advance their health? How can we fix this situation?" 
 
In 2012, when the rankings were released, the directors of the Gaston County Health Department, CaroMont Health, Gaston Family Health Services and the Gaston Community Healthcare Commission met to address this complex issue.
 
"We know it will take several years for the County Health Rankings to show our community's investments in improving  health," said Doug Luckett, CEO at CaroMont Health. "The organizations involved in correcting this issue, and others across the county, are using policy, general awareness and new programs to improve the health of Gaston County's residents."
 
Directors from the four agencies resolved to provide joint leadership to improve Gaston's state of health, and by consensus agreed to the Gaston Community Healthcare Commission to taking the lead. The Commission has since agreed to focus on programming that prevents and treats obesity, largely because of the pivotal role obesity plays as a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, forms of cancer and other debilitating disease.
 
"The Healthcare Commission is implementing the first phases of its Healthy Gaston Initiative, and we are now planning our next steps to reduce the incidence of obesity across the county," said Donna Lockett, Executive Director of the Healthcare Commission. "Implementing our plans will take community resources, long-term commitment, and funding on an unprecedented scale. This is a big issues, but we must succeed … Gaston County residents deserve good health."
Despite the obstacles, Dobbins says history demonstrates our goal is achievable.
 
"We pooled our resources, our money and our political will to work on teen pregnancy a few years ago, and our teen pregnancy rates have hit record lows," Dobbins said. "We can do it again with obesity. We will improve the health of our community."

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