County Health Director Discusses Recent Health Assessment

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At a recent Mayor’s Breakfast sponsored by Franklin Tomorrow, Williamson County Health Department Director Cathy Montgomery spoke about the results of a recent county-wide health assessment that the department does every three years with the help of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. This year Ascension St. Thomas also participated in the survey.

Upon completion of the assessment, the County Health Department formulates goals for the next two years. An assessment takes about a year to accomplish. The team working on the project pulled together all kinds of information, including information about the environment, aging, disability, cancer, infant mortality, leading causes of death in the community and much more. They also spoke to city leaders and members of the local community about health issues in the community and how to address them.

The data compiled was then pulled together by a sub-committee and looked at to determine key factors on which the county will focus on in their County Health Improvement Plan for 2023 until 2025. Four key focus areas were recognized after completion of the recent study: Social and Structural Determinants of Health, Mental Health and Well Being, Chronic Disease and Chronic Disease Factors, and Access to Healthcare.

“Only 20% of our health is impacted by healthcare,” said Montgomery. “While quality healthcare is important, we need to look at both social and physical factors that have more effect.”

Affordable housing is becoming a significant factor, especially for those who are providing critical skills and knowledge to the community including teachers, healthcare workers, seniors and first responders due to the steep rise in the price of a home and rising rents. A healthy, well-maintained home has a significant effect on health. It is one of the elements that the health department will be working on in the years to come.

“Not having money really affects your mental health,” said one community focus group member. “You are trying to figure out how I am going to pay this water bill, this gas bill, this light bill? I got electric due. I got car insurance. It’s all rolling through your head, and there is no sleep, because you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to do it…I’m in a survival mode, and I need finances to just keep my head above water.”

Providing community green spaces is another important factor, especially since Williamson County has ranked poorly as far as obesity and sedentary lifestyles. According to a recent analysis by Wallet Hub, the Nashville MSA, of which Williamson County is a part, ranks 123 out of 182 most populated cities in the United State based on 43 key health indicators. In another of their studies, Nashville MSA ranks 18th in the obese cities out of 100.

Binge drinking runs higher in Williamson County than the state average. Addressing alcohol and drug abuse is another significant factor in the community health plan according to Montgomery. A large part of the county effort will, however, be focused on kids. Drug and alcohol abuse begins as early as the age of 14.

Suicide rates have been rising in the country, especially among middle aged white men. Since tracking of suicide began in 2013, the county has averaged 30 to 32 suicides per year. One positive note is that since the creation of a blue-ribbon task force focused on mental health between 2020 and 2021 that rate has fallen to 24 per year.

Franklin Tomorrow has been part of the group of organizations working together towards suicide prevention, including the coordination of the teaching of QPR classes and promotion of the website Find Hope Franklin. Find Hope Franklin provides mental health resources to those needing help.

The strategy developed from the gathered information will compose the 2023 to 2025 Williamson County Health Improvement Plan. Anyone wishing to join the coalition working toward greater health in the county can click here.

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