Editor’s note: The following is Part One of a two-part series on the Community Health Needs Assessment of Upson County. Part One deals with the rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory problems, and accidents. Part Two, which will be in the Friday, March 15 edition, will deal with the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies, and drug use in Upson County.
Every year Upson County is competing with other counties throughout the state to gain top ranking in areas such as education and job creation, however, the factors Upson is excelling at are not exactly something to brag about. A Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) recently revealed that as a community Upson County has a higher rate of cancer, heart disease, stroke and sexually transmitted diseases as well as several other areas, than not only the State of Georgia, but also the United States as a whole.
Upson Regional Medical Center, in conjunction with Draffin and Tucker (the hospital’s CPA Firm), conducted the report over the last year to gain a better understanding of the health challenges facing the community and hopefully identify the best way to respond to those needs. The Federal Government requires hospitals to perform a CHNA at least once every three years and local organizations can use the findings when applying for grants for the community. To gain the information necessary to complete the report, data was collected and analyzed along with input from community stakeholders. Cindy Dupree, of Draffin and Tucker, spoke about the findings at a Sun’s Up Breakfast hosted by URMC and the Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce earlier this month and noted that this is an evaluation of all citizens in Upson County, not just Upson Regional Medical Center. She also pointed out that it is not the sole responsibility of the hospital to address these needs; it will take cooperation from everyone in the community. Dupree stated during the event that out of the 159 counties in Georgia, Upson is ranked 144th when it comes to quality of life.
Before beginning the assessment, a snapshot of the community was taken. Upson County has a population of a little over 27,000, with roughly 68 percent White, 28 percent Black and two percent Hispanic. The median household income is $34,509, which is below Georgia’s median income of $49,347 and national median income of $51,914. Of the county’s population, 76 percent of residents graduated high school and 80 percent have health insurance. However, there is an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent with nearly 22 percent of citizens in Upson County living in poverty and 66 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.
In the health findings of the assessment, the top leading causes of death in Upson were cancer, heart disease, stroke, COPD/Emphysema and accidents. The cancer rate for the county is higher than both the state and national averages and is also higher among black men and women than it is for white men and women. The report stated the most common types of cancer for males in Georgia are prostrate, lung, colon/rectum, bladder and melanoma. For women in Georgia diagnosis are likely to be for breast, lung, colon/rectum, uterus and ovary cancer. When input was gathered from community members many stated that there is a need for more early detection screenings, but that there is also an issue when it comes to follow-up care after a diagnosis. Many people have to go to Macon, Columbus or LaGrange for treatment, which can be troublesome for those who do not have adequate transportation. It was also noted that there seems to be many asbestos claims for many individuals due to a long history of working in the mills.
When it comes to heart disease Upson has a higher rate than the state; it is fairly even among black men and white men, but is higher among black women than white women. In addition, the rate of death from a stroke is nearly double locally than the state and national averages. Community stakeholders noted one of the main reasons heart disease and stroke are higher is due to the populations obesity problem and the stress that comes from many people living in poverty. Many who suffer from these types of ailments cannot afford the medication needed. Stakeholders noted more people need to be educated about the symptoms of both heart disease and stroke.
Chronic respiratory problems, such as COPD and Emphysema, in this area are significantly higher than the state and national levels; in fact they are nearly double. The study also showed that death rates are much higher for white males and females than that of black males and females. Modifiable risk factors that contribute to chronic respiratory problems include tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, air pollution, allergies and occupational agents. Input from the community showed many believe health issues were caused for much of the retired population due to working in the textile mills.
The CHNA showed that 53 percent of deaths in Upson County come from accidents, things such as motor vehicle, firearms, poisoning, suffocations, fires, falls and drowning. There is also higher death rate from accidents among men than women, regardless of race.