Health assessment results released

Findings will be used to improve health in area

Sentinel photo by ERIN THOMPSON
Catherine Birdsey, research senior at Baker Tilly, in Lancaster, discusses results of the most recent community health needs assessment in Mifflin, Juniata and Centre counties during an event held Friday at The ComPASS Center in Lewistown.

LEWISTOWN — Mental health and substance abuse were ranked as top emerging health conditions affecting the region in a recent assessment of the area.

The results of the community needs health assessment, is conducted every three years and takes data from 19 counties that make up the western region of Pennsylvania and focuses on top health concerns.

The results of the assessment were presented on Friday at The ComPASS Center in Lewistown and focused on the health needs of Mifflin, Juniata and Centre counties.

According to Colleen Milligan, senior manager of Baker Tilly, an agency which presented the results of the assessment, the results will be used to improve the community’s health overall.

The results include data from Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital, Allied Services Integrated Health System and Evangelical Community Hospital.

Milligan said the information gathered from the assessment would be used to provide better service for residents.

“Across Pennsylvania, we are all dealing with the same health issued. The difference is how we can leverage those resources,” she said.

During the presentation, community leaders ranked issues that affected the region the most heavily and discussed ways to utilize local resources to improve public health.

According to Catherine Birdsey, research senior at Baker Tilly, findings from the assessment ranked Mifflin and Juniata counties higher than the state and national average in premature deaths.

It showed the statewide number of drug-related overdose deaths increased 37 percent from 2015 to 2016.

During that same time frame, Juniata County showed a 300 percent increase in the number of substance abuse deaths, to 16.2 deaths per 100,000 people, while Mifflin County showed a 20 percent increase, to 12.9 deaths per 100,000.

The assessment found that the number of adults who smoke in Mifflin County increased from 16.1 percent in 2012, the last time the assessment was taken, to 18.2 percent in 2015. The number of adults who drink excessively also increased from 10.8 percent in 2012 to 17.1 percent in 2015.

In Juniata County, the number of smoking adults increased from 16.4 percent to 17.9 percent.

Birdsey noted that Mifflin and Juniata counties were found to have a higher obesity rate than the state and national averages.

About 34.5 percent of adults in Juniata County and 31.6 percent of adults in Mifflin County are considered obese. At the state level, 30 percent of adults were found to be obese, compared to 29.4 percent at the national level.

Among youth, it was reported that 21.6 percent of Juniata County students kindergarten through sixth grade were obese, compared to 25.6 percent in grades seven through 12.

Juniata County youth statistics showed that 18.5 percent of students grades kindergarten through sixth grade were considered obese, while 17.4 percent in grades seven through 12 were obese.

The report shows the number of Mifflin County youth — 21.5 percent — are considered to be food insecure — or unable to access affordable, nutritious food — compared to the state and national average of 17.9 percent.

Heart disease and cancer were ranked as the top causes of death across the 19-county region, but the assessment found those numbers in general were declining.

The assessment indicated the prevalence of adult diabetes has increased slightly for all counties in the region since 2009, except Cumberland, Perry and Snyder.

It also found the uninsured rates declined from 2012 to 2016, for every county except Columbia County.

Birdsey said having a higher population of insured individuals during that time period could be attributed to the Affordable Care Act.

Still the uninsured rates for Mifflin and Juniata counties was slightly above the state and national level between 2011 and 2015, at 15 percent for Mifflin County and 14.5 percent in Juniata County.

The assessment also measured socioeconomic factors and found that Mifflin County has a higher rate of people in poverty than the state and national level, Birdsey said.

It found that Mifflin County has 15.8 percent rate of adults in poverty and 25.8 percent of children in poverty. About 16.9 percent of people in Mifflin County were also found to have obtained less than a high school diploma.

The state average was 13.5 percent of people and 19.2 percent of children in poverty and the national average was 15.5 percent of people in poverty and 21.7 percent of children.

Neighboring Juniata County, reported 13.2 percent of people in poverty and 20.5 percent of children in poverty, with 17.4 percent having obtained less than a high school diploma.

The assessment found poverty levels were higher among minorities, with 34 percent of African-American residents and 42.8 percent of Latino residents living in Mifflin County living in poverty.

In Juniata County, 26.7 percent African-American residents were found to be living in poverty and 11.9 percent of Latinos were considered in poverty.

The assessment also found that the populations of both Mifflin and Juniata counties is expected to grow 1 percent each from 2017 to 2022.

According to the report, the minority population, however, is the only demographic that is growing.

Results of the assessment show that the population of white individuals is expected to decrease 1.5 percent by 2022 in Mifflin County and to decrease 1.8 percent in Juniata County, while the Latino population is expected to increase by 0.8 percent in Mifflin County and 1.9 percent in Juniata County.

Result for other races was not included.

According to Birdsey, the 2017 Race for Results Report from the Anne E. Casey Foundation, Pennsylvania is falling behind in ensuring its minorities succeed.

The report assesses test scores, rates of children in pre kindergarten education and birth rate statistics by population groups and ranks the states according to their performance and found Pennsylvania ranks 32rd for performance among African-American children, the lowest of the northeastern states.

The report also found that Pennsylvania ranks 48th for performance among Latino children.

Birdsey said among eighth grade students, 8 percent of African-American and 14 percent of Latinos scored above proficient on math tests, compared to 68 percent of white students who met the same benchmarks.