Survey to spotlight county health needs

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

Hoping to spotlight the health needs and concerns of the community, Covenant Health is in the midst of compiling a needs assessment survey in Loudon County.

Community leaders expressed excitement for the assessment, saying they believe it will provide vital information on the county's overall health.

Loudon County Health Department Director Teresa Harrill said the assessment will provide more in-depth statistics. Her department will use the results to better serve the community, adding that most health care is more reactive rather than preventative.

"Looking for us, it's more of what can we as a health department do, what are the needs in the community and then being available to be on the obesity task force, to be on this, to look at how can we help," Harrill said. "Obviously, we can't do it all ourselves, but as a group and a community, if everyone is on the same page then I think we're in a better position to address the needs."

Besides analyzing needs through the voice of the community, Covenant Health is partnering with the local health department and organizing focus groups with community leaders for a well-rounded assessment, Gary Young, director of the Center for Community Health at Covenant Health, said.

Covenant Health may not be taking surveys door-to-door, but they're looking for answers across all demographics. The survey is just one piece of the pie, but it has its key place in the assessment, Young said.

"The information we will gather from the focus groups and from the household surveys are people's opinions, and many people say that that's just not scientific, but it is important to listen to that kind of information because people in their day-to-day life, they see things in their own families or in their own particular lives that health statistics may not pick up," Young said. "You can't just base all your opinion just on health statistics because they are based upon the bad outcomes that are recorded. What about the things that aren't recorded?"

Focusing on the needs and concerns of the community, the survey asks residents for their impressions on the quality of life and health in Loudon County and the primary health challenges and what contributes to those challenges. After 400 surveys are gathered, the group will reassess the demographics represented and then collect 100 more from the demographics being unrepresented to better reflect the county.

"When we get all the data collected together we will form a community data census team, which will be about a dozen community leaders that will sit down with us and look not just at statistics but what do the community residents and leaders also feel are the challenges to making Loudon County healthier," Young said.

To take the survey, visit The survey is also available at the Loudon County Health Department and local nonprofits like the Loudon and Lenoir City schools family resource centers and the Good Samaritan Center.

All nonprofit hospitals across the nation are required under the new health care law to conduct a community needs assessment every three years, Young said.

"I think what is going to come out of this is an opportunity for people to rally around the top three issues," Young said. "If it's a lack of access to care, well how can we make that better? If it's obesity and obesity drives so many other heath problems, what is the best way to get our community more fit? If it's heart disease, well, what do we do about that? But, I think what the benefit is, is you start getting attention on things in a collaborative way and people start working together."

Results will be posted on Fort Loudoun Medical Center's website after the assessment is complete in three years, Young said.

"After all the results are in and the data team has done their work and identified the significant issues, then an internal team at the hospital begins to create a hospital specific plan around those findings," Young said.

The project won't be going away anytime soon. Young said assessments will continue to be collected and posted on the hospital's website every three years.

Harrill said the assessment will provide benefits beyond shining a light on health in Loudon County.

"It helps us look at are there needs out there that we as the health department can help with?" Harrill said. "We will be able to look at it and say after it's compiled, 'Oh gee. We didn't realize this was such a need in Greenback or somewhere.' Our services are more prevention as far as like immunization and those types of things, but at least it helps with, like, we want to do health education and look at where we are at."

Harrill said a community needs assessment has been completed in the past, but it's been quite a few years.

"There are a lot of things that have changed in the community with all the heath care stuff that is going on," Harrill said. "I think having a very strong hospital presence that can make a difference. I think there are more physicians in Loudon County than what there used to be and that is positive. One thing that came out of the focus group and as I've seen in my regional meetings I've seen that in each of the communities drug abuse, dental care, uninsured adults, those are big needs in the community."

Though the assessment is still in its early stages, Young said Loudon's statistics will not be dramatically different from neighboring counties.

"We are all in the same region of the state," Young said. "We all have access to similar resources and have similar problems, so I don't think we will see anything dramatically different, but I think how they are prioritized might be different. I think we all have heart issues and cancer as a leading cause of death."