County conducting health assessment

Loudon County Health Improvement Council co-chairs Amanda DeBord and Steve Davis discuss county health facts at Fort Loudoun Medical Center.

Loudon County health officials are in the middle of completing the 2020 county health assessment and are calling for more volunteers to help.

The assessment is conducted each summer in conjunction with Fort Loudoun Medical Center, Loudon County Health Department and Loudon County Health Improvement Council.

“We find it to very beneficial in being able to currently look at what’s going on in our communities, and the part we find most compelling is some of the primary research that we do,” Gary Young, Covenant Health community outreach manager, said. “It’s been kind of a unique challenge with this COVID-19 environment.”

Restrictions associated with the pandemic have hampered the process this cycle.

Physical surveys are typically handed out to the public and within the school systems, but health officials have posted them online as a safety precaution.

“It definitely has impacted this year’s assessment because we have not been able to freely go out in the community,” Teresa Harrill, Loudon County Health Department director, said. “The way we normally would’ve handled it, and definitely in our clinic, but with the few patients that we’re actually seeing in house, we haven’t been able to do that. I think right now the major thing we’re going to have to do is online. It’s just unexplainable.”

Focus groups helped develop a baseline for the assessment, which included community leaders representing various populations in the county.

“We’ve done online focus groups to have these surveys to try and identify what are the top health concerns of the county,” Amanda DeBord, Loudon County Health Improvement Council co-chairwoman, said. “We started this whole thing before COVID-19, so some of the things that came up to hospital administrators, like my focus group was this group, and they mentioned how heart disease is one of the top concerns and respiratory issues.”

Young believes drug abuse and mental health issues will be near the top again this year.

“Substance abuse is still, I’m almost sure, is going to be in the top five,” he said. “This is not unique in Loudon County because every county I’ve done over the last two years, those two continue to rise to the top. I think the COVID-19 thing, I think, has maybe exasperated both. Loudon County’s got a very high population percentage of seniors compared to many counties, partly in large because of the Tellico Village community. I would not be surprised if cardiovascular disease or stroke show up as well.

“Another thing we keep hearing about, and that’s because it’s so new, is vaping,” he added. “It’s exploding in the high schools, we know it is, but it’s so new and we don’t really have any good data on it yet. Observationally, people in the school system and parents can tell you this is significant.”

In light of the pandemic, Harrill has noticed an uptick in community-wide exercise and health awareness.

“I think people, hopefully, are utilizing the great outdoors more and doing more,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the incident that bicycles are in demand and there’s a shortage. Obviously, people are looking at alternatives and getting more fit and trying to utilize the time being at home and quarantined. Hopefully, that’ll be something. Given the summer time, maybe there’s more people growing gardens and utilizing more healthy choices about their food because they can’t go out and eat like they could before.”

Health officials are in need of a larger sample size and are encouraging Loudon County residents to complete the survey online at https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/5587540/Loudon-CHA-w-COVID.

The survey will be available for a couple of more weeks, Young said.

“What they’re doing is they’re sending out an electronic survey to various people, anybody that wants to take the survey and they’re going to come out with the top things that our county struggles with,” DeBord said. “We wanted to say thanks to you all the volunteers, to the community and to the workers.”