Forsyth’s health lags behind other counties

Forsyth’s health lags behind other counties
April 12
02:00 2018

Forsyth County has higher rates of infant mortality and chronic disease than other large counties in the state.

That was the finding of the Public Health Department’s Forsyth County Community Health Assessment (CHA), which analyzed several year’s worth of health statistics as part of its state accreditation. Public Health Director Marlon Hunter presented the report to county commissioners last week on April 5.

The report lists three major challenges that the local Health Department considers top priorities for the next three years: chronic disease, maternal/infant health and sexual health. Chronic disease and maternal/infant health have been listed as priorities for the last three CHAs. The report says that the Health Department will be working with community partners to develop and implement action plans for each priority.

Opioid overdoses where not included in the top priorities because action plans are already being implemented by the Forsyth County Opioid Taskforce, which is comprised of more than 20 community partners that deal with the opioid crisis. During this week’s City Public Safety Committee meeting, a report on the opioid crisis showed that the percentage of opioid overdoses resulting in deaths has plummeted thanks to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

However, the amount of overdoes has increased so much that Winston-Salem has had almost as many overdose deaths so far this year as it did in all of 2017.

The Health Department’s top priority is chronic disease. For the past decade, cancer and heart disease have been the top cause of death in the county. The death rate for cancer in Forsyth is 168.4 per 100,000 people from 2012-2016 and the rate for heart disease deaths was 144.4. These are higher than the rates for Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake. There are racial disparities in chronic disease, with African-American disproportionately experiencing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and stroke.

Maternal/child health continues to be a challenge despite progress in recent years. In 2012, the county’s infant mortality rate was 10.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2014, the county had a historically low infant mortality rate of 6.4, though that number rose in 2016 to 9.3.

“Our infant mortality rate is still higher than our four peer counties,” said Hunter.

The reduction is due in part to a number of programs like Nurse-Family Partnership, which recently expanded so it can team more nurses up with first-time mothers. Hunter said the Health Department is currently in the process of gathering 10 year’s worth of data on maternal/child health and infant mortality, and will be working with both local hospitals to address infant mortality.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon praised Hunter for embracing programs like Nurse-Family Partnership. He said infant health has a big effect on the health of the community, and a high mortality rate often means other health outcomes in a county are bad.

“Infant mortality, that’s the whole basis for the health of the community,” said Witherspoon.
Sexual health remains an issue in the county, with chlamydia among young women being the largest concern. Between 2012 and 2016, two out of every three new chlamydia cases were in residents 24 years or younger and three-fourths of those were in females. Despite this, the report said that only one in two women of childbearing age have had their medical provider talk to them about getting tested for the disease, which can cause poor pregnancy outcomes.

Chlamydia cases rose to 706.8 cases per 100,000 residents in 2016. However, Forsyth County’s rates of chlamydia were lower than those in Durham, Guilford and Mecklenburg counties. Its rate of other sexually transmitted diseases were not higher than some of its other peer counties as well.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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