The pandemic may have sucked all the oxygen out of the room. But the public health issues that vexed McLean County long before “COVID-19” became a household name still linger.
A new progress report on McLean County’s Community Health Improvement Plan shows much progress but also stubborn public health challenges. The report is the last checkup on the 2017-19 plan, which prioritized behavioral health, obesity, and access to care; a new plan, sketching out health priorities through 2022, was released in February.
There were encouraging signs in the 2019 report:
- More McLean County residents have access to a physician. That percentage rose from 87% in 2015 to 94% in 2018, according to a survey. Dental care access also increased for adults, from 77% to 81%.
- More adults are exercising three or more times per week (from 39% in 2015 to 49% in 2018). Fewer adults (from 27% down to 20%) say they don’t exercise at all.
- There were fewer suicides in 2018 versus 2015, and fewer adults reported binge drinking.
But there remain challenges.
Around 19% of at-risk community members (defined as those with annual household incomes of less than $20,000) reported the ER was still their primary option for medical care. That’s actually an increase from 10% in 2015. Only 3% of the general population uses the ER in that way.
And while the general population reported increased access to a physician, at-risk community members did not. That held steady at 80%.
“That’s still clearly an area where we need to continue to work to help people get access to a medical home, and be with that home, so they can address chronic care issues and stay out of the ER as much as possible,” said Cathy Coverston Anderson, assistant administrator of the McLean County Health Department and an executive steering committee member for the county’s Community Health Council.
Behavioral health strides
On behavioral health, the report points to several successful efforts, including mental health first aid classes (which have trained 1,300 community members), a social media campaign aimed at reducing stigma surrounding behavioral health, and embedded clinicians in schools to increase access to mental health services.
“So hopefully over time, we’ll see that this is a making a difference,” Anderson said.
But it’s a stubborn issue. The plan aimed to reduce the number of McLean County adults who don’t seek counseling because of embarrassment or fear. But the number of people citing embarrassment actually increased, from 16% in 2015 to 22% in 2018, according to the report.
“There’s clearly a lot more effort and work that needs to be done in this area,” Anderson said.
The 2020-22 health improvement plan also prioritizes access to care, behavioral health, and obesity. That last priority has been renamed "healthy eating/active living" to better encompass exercise, nutrition, obesity, and food access/insecurity.
“We have some work to do, but we’re pleased with how we’re progressing so far,” said Erin Kennedy, manager of the Center for Healthy Lifestyles at OSF Healthcare St. Joseph Medical Center and another executive steering committee member.
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