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To take the survey

To participate in the Charles County Community Health Needs Assessment Survey, go to www.charlesregional.org, and click on the “Take the Community Health Survey” icon in the upper right-hand corner.

The University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center will start to measure the health status and health needs of Charles County residents.

The Charles County Community Health Needs Assessment Survey asks 27 questions and provides a space for input. The survey is available online through the hospital’s website.

“The survey gives us a snapshot of the health of the community,” said Joyce Riggs, director of community development and planning and public information officer for CRMC. Riggs said the survey will show the hospital if any gaps in care, any unmet needs or any trends need attention in the county this year.

The survey’s results also will serve as a benchmark for the hospital to measure against, Riggs said. A needs assessment survey is conducted every three years at the hospital’s expense, and this year’s survey will enable the hospital to determine how well its implementation plan worked from the last survey.

For the 2011 assessment, 302 people answered a 74-question survey; 200 answered a four-question survey; 17.5 percent of respondents took the survey in Spanish; and there were 165 focus group participants in seven focus groups, according to information in an email from Riggs. Riggs wrote that this year’s assessment would include 12 focus groups.

“The link to the survey was available on the [CRMC] website,” an online copy of the 2011 assessment on the CRMC website states. “The first section of the survey asked participants about their perception of health and health services within the county. The second section asked them about their health behaviors, in order to determine their risk for the development of certain health conditions.”

Demographic information from the survey shows 80.1 percent of the respondents were from Charles County, 11.6 percent from St. Mary’s County, the second-largest percentage. More than three-quarters of the respondents were between 35 and 64. The highest percentage was in the 55 to 64 age group. The overwhelming majority of the respondents, 90.2 percent, were female.

The majority of the respondents also were white, 80.1 percent, followed by African-Americans at 15.9 percent and 4 percent combined for other races.

More than half of the respondents were college educated, and most were employed full time.

More than half had a household income greater than $75,000.

Riggs said the survey would employ a similar methodology this year.

Results will be pulled, Riggs said, from three areas: the survey, data trends and focus groups. Each focus group will contain “experts in the county on that particular matter,” and information will be collected from what the experts are seeing in their fields.

To examine data trends, Amber Starns, an epidemiologist with the Charles County Department of Health, will “use birth and death data, population data, and Census data on economic and social indicators to understand how these determinants affect health in the county,” she wrote in an email. “I will also look at incidence (new cases) and prevalence data for many chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental health, dental health, substance abuse, high blood pressure, etc. Data sources such as the Maryland Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, allow me to take a closer look at protective factors, such as seat belt use, and risk factors for disease, such as obesity and lack of physical activity, to see if the lifestyles of county residents will lead to an increased or decreased prevalence of disease.”

The first of 12 focus groups was held Wednesday with representatives of the hospital and local school nurses. Other focus groups will include experts on behavior, cancer, special populations, fitness and nutrition, and reproductive and infant health.

Riggs said the school nurses are seeing a prevalence of type 2 diabetes among middle school children. Diabetes and obesity are usually in the top three of needs in the county, according to the survey results, and she said she expects that not to change with this year’s survey results.

“I think we’re going to see mental health issues take a forefront both from higher incidence and access needs,” Riggs said of this year’s survey. She said lack of health insurance coverage is a factor for county residents with mental health concerns.

Riggs said the last survey identified 11 areas that needed action plans: access to care, mental health, dental health, accidents and injury prevention, substance abuse, sexually transmitted disease, cancer, diabetes mortality, heart disease mortality, obesity and fetal infant mortality.

As an example, Riggs said, with cancer, the 2011 survey identified that Charles County men had a higher rate of prostate cancer than the state average. The hospital and its partner agencies considered what could be done, and an awareness campaign began in the local media, the health department and the hospital. A free large-scale screening was held.

Now the health department offers a prostate cancer program for men.

“We think we’re making a difference, and more men are getting screened,” Riggs said of the effect of the 2011 survey’s results.

The last survey also determined that the leading cause of emergency room visits for residents 75 and older was falls, Riggs said. A team was gathered, which created an action plan. The Charles County Department of Community Services wrote a grant for fall prevention and went to the homes of seniors and assisted living facilities to discuss how to reduce the risk of falling.

A countywide program resulted called “SAFE From Falls.”

Tanisha Sanders, 40, of La Plata is the youth and transitions coordinator for the Charles County public school system. She said she found the online survey simple and easy to answer. Her reason for taking the survey is “anything that helps to get more services in the county I’m definitely willing to participate.”

Sanders has lived in Charles County for nine years and has three children, ages 12 to 7. She said two of her children have asthma, and she makes sure that all three of her children have regular doctor visits.

“I make sure we stay on top of [their asthma],” Sanders said. But, she said she knows that some parents might not have transportation or the health insurance to let them get their children to regular doctor visits. She has seen some people encounter barriers to getting health insurance.

Sanders said in the community she sees a variety of cancer diagnoses and perhaps screenings are necessary. Also, she sees people who do not have access to or health insurance for preventative care, and some people who lack transportation to get health care.

“Definitely, I would say we need more doctors [in Charles County],” Sanders said. She said she has known many residents who have had a long wait for a doctor’s appointment. She also would like to see more doctors in the county who accept a variety of health insurances and who accept patients who do not have health insurance.

The needs assessment survey contains a lot of information, Sanders said, and covers a lot of different areas. She said she is encouraging others to take the survey, and since she took it she has forwarded it on to other community members.

“The whole [survey] process is really fascinating because we really get to see how these things come together,” Riggs said. The survey also gives the community the opportunity to come together and provide what is needed instead of guessing what residents need.

The survey is online and will be available for county residents until Oct. 1.

Staff writer Joel Davis contributed to this report. rbarnabi@somdnews.com