GAINESVILLE — Alachua County’s most current health data and leading health concerns are featured in the recently released "Alachua County Community Health Assessment 2020" by WellFlorida Council, the local health planning council of North Central Florida. The purpose of the community health assessment is to uncover or substantiate the health needs and health issues in Alachua County and better understand the causes and contributing factors to health and quality of life in the county.
The comprehensive health assessment effort is based on a nationally recognized model and best practice for completing health assessments and improvement plans called Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP). Use of the MAPP process and tools helped assure a collaborative and participatory process with a focus on wellness, quality of life and health equity that led to the identification of shared, actionable, strategic health priorities for Alachua County. Copies of the report can be downloaded from the WellFlorida website (www.WellFlorida.org) under “County Publications.”
Conclusions and trends in the assessment were drawn from survey data, state and national database findings, and community stakeholder discussions.
The top five most important factors that contribute to a health community as identified by Alachua County residents are: 1) Access to health care including primary care, specialty care, dental and mental health care; 2) Access to convenient, affordable and nutritious foods; 3) Job opportunities for all levels of education; 4) Affordable housing; and 5) Healthy behaviors. The majority of residents rated the health of the county as “somewhat healthy” to “healthy.”
Immunization rates among kindergartners and seventh graders in Alachua County have seen positive trends over the last decade, surpassing state averages (94.2 percent of kindergartners and 97.4 percent of seventh-graders in 2019). The county also reports consistently lower rates of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) cases (16.3 per 100,000 population in 2018) over a decade.
Despite having a wealth of medical resources concentrated in the city of Gainesville, only 69.5 percent of Alachua County residents reported having a personal doctor, slightly lower than the state average of 72 percent. Inappropriate utilization of Emergency Department for dental or oral health reasons remains high at 2,793 preventable visits from January to September 2018.
Health disparities, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations,” were evident in maternal and infant health data, as well as in other categories such as morbidity and mortality, wealth and quality healthcare.
Rates of teen pregnancy have trended downward among White, Black and Hispanic populations. Black residents, however, continued to experience a higher teen pregnancy rate (2.1 percent) relative to White counterparts (0.3 percent) from 2016 to 2018.
Infant mortality and low birthweight (LBW) births among the Black population in Alachua County is an area of particular concern. In the time period of 2016-2018, the infant death rate was almost fourfold higher among Black residents (15.8 deaths per 1,000 population) relative to White (4.2 deaths per 1,000 population) and Hispanic (4.3 deaths per 1,000 population) counterparts. The average infant death rate among Black residents in Alachua County is also higher than the average infant death rate among Black residents in Florida (11.2 deaths per 1,000 population). LBW birth trends since 2013 demonstrate a similar pattern with disparities widening in recent years.
The disparity in all-cause mortality rates between the White population and Black population in Alachua County has improved in recent years. All-cause mortality in the Black population decreased from 978 deaths per 100,000 population in 2014 to 909 deaths in 2018. However, this remains higher than the all-cause mortality rate among the White population of 749 deaths per 100,000 population in 2018.
White residents had much higher median household incomes ($54,112) compared to Hispanic residents ($42,410) and Black residents ($30,132) in the county. Income inequality by racial group was worse at the county level than the state level.
Considering all findings throughout the assessment process, community stakeholders identified the issues with the highest priority in Alachua County as access to affordable housing and utilities, health disparities, access to mental healthcare and access to nutritious foods, according to the report.
The project is funded by the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County and UF Health Shands Hospital.
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