Bath forum examines health issues in Cumberland, Sagadahoc counties

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BATH — The results of a statewide health needs assessment shared March 25 in a forum at Maine Maritime Museum are being described as a call to action from the state’s health community.

The Shared Health Needs Assessment and Planning Process Project was the focus of the forum, hosted by Mid Coast Hospital, the Mid Coast District Coordinating Council, Access Health, and the Maine Center for Disease Control.

The report, based in part on public surveys, delves into substance abuse, tobacco use, childhood obesity and behavioral health as a means of determining the level of concern and forming health improvement plans.

“What we’ll discuss today is really not another project at all for us,” Mid Coast Parkview Health President and CEO Lois Skillings said. “It is an ongoing conversation that drives our community health mission.”

Mid Coast is developing a long-range wellness strategy, she noted, in order to determine where locally and across the state there are “Blue Zones” – a term for demographics and areas of the world where people tend to live longer.

Nancy Birkhimer, director of public health performance improvement at the Maine CDC, presented data resulting from polling Sagadahoc and Cumberland county residents. The project produced reports from each of Maine’s 16 counties.

The summaries compared each county’s statistics to Maine and the U.S. as a whole.

Both Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties saw lower percentages of people living in poverty – 11.4 and 11.1, respectively, compared with 13.6 for the state and 15.4 percent for the country.

In Cumberland County, 11.5 percent rated their general health from fair to poor, compared to 13.6 percent in Sagadahoc County, 15.6 percent in Maine and 16.7 percent in the U.S.

High cholesterol was reported at 36.7 percent of respondents in Cumberland, 39.8 percent in Sagadahoc, 40.3 percent in Maine and 38.4 percent in the U.S. The prevalence of hypertension was 42.3 percent in Sagadahoc, higher than the 29.5 percent of people reporting the condition in Cumberland County, 32.8 percent in Maine and 31.4 percent nationwide.

Physical activity generally scored stronger in the two counties compared with the state and country. In Cumberland County,  16.9 percent of adults reported they are sedentary, compared to 19.1 percent in Sagadahoc, 22.4 percent in Maine and 25.3 percent in the country.

Obesity among Cumberland County adults was reported at 23.7 percent, compared to 24.4 percent in Sagadahoc County, 28.9 percent in Maine and 29.4 percent in the U.S. Overweight adults were at 46.7 percent in Sagadahoc, higher than 35.1 percent in Cumberland, 36 percent in Maine and 35.4 in the U.S.

Cumberland saw an alcoholic binge-drinking rate of 20.7 percent, higher than 17 percent in Sagadahoc, 17.4 percent in Maine and 16.8 percent in the U.S. Among high school students, 29 percent said they had used alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 25.6 percent in Cumberland, 26 percent in Maine and 34.9 percent nationwide.

Regarding adults who have suffered from depression, 17.7 percent reported they had in Sagadahoc County; the rate was 18.8 percent in Cumberland, 23.5 percent in Maine and 18.7 in the U.S.

Complete data can be found at maine.gov/shnapp.

“You have a role in telling the story about this data,” Birkhimer told the forum participants. “It’s really important that you look at this data and compare it to your realities, to what you’ve experienced in your community, and to what that means for your community.”

“Part of our job today is to start to pull together to say, what are we going to do about this data,” she added.

That discussion was held in breakout sessions on substance abuse, obesity, mental health and tobacco. Health improvement ideas in the tobacco group, for example, included broadening the number of smoke-free establishments, raising taxes on cigarette purchases, and using more positive motivation – as opposed to scare tactics – to encourage people to quit or avoid smoking.

In reporting on the obesity group, Cate Parker – a community health and wellness coordinator with Mid Coast-Parkview Health – summed up the direction needed for all the health maladies discussed that day.

“To truly make change in the future, we need to start now,” she said.

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” Parker later said, “and we know we need a lot of people to get this work done.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Al May, acting public health liaison with the Maine Center for Disease Control, runs a discussion group at a community forum March 25 with Melissa Fochesato, ACCESS Health and Substance Abuse Prevention director at Mid Coast-Parkview Health. The event was held at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.