Health report shows best, worst trends

A giant report recently released by the Island County Health Department provides a statistical overview of human health in the county for the purpose of improving health care.

But according to the 300-plus page “The Health of Island County” report, there is a lot of work too do. Given its public debut in a public meeting last week, the report shows a number of disturbing statistics about county residents, including:

n 80 percent of sexually transmitted diseases occur with people ages 15-24;

n 52 percent of county residents are considered overweight;

n Half the inmates at the Island County jail suffer from some sort of mental illness;

n Island County is still documenting cases of whooping cough, due in part to parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children;

n Six percent of county residents lack health insurance;

In addition to these negative trends, the report provides a comprehensive look at the health of county residents, a look that shows — on the positive side — life expectancy up from 78 years in 1980 to 80 now, and the number of new HIV cases on the decline. Information generated for the report, both positive and negative, will be used to cater programs toward the health needs of county residents.

“We want to make sure the limited resources we have address health issues in Island County,” said Island County Health Director Tim McDonald.

The information in the report helps focus the resources and gives local health care organizations the information they need to apply more grants to provide services. The county needs to apply for more grant money to make up for a poor tax base, McDonald said.

The information in the report is based on the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey given to 1,200 Island County households in 2000, and data from Whidbey General Hospital, the Island County Health Department, the Island County Sheriff’s Office and the 2000 Census.

One statistic McDonald outlined last week concerned the rate of spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It doubled between 2001 and 2002 with chlamydia being the most frequently diagnosed. Most recent STD diagnosis in Island County have been found in young people.

“That’s a little bit alarming,” McDonald said. “We’re not talking enough to our children or our personnel on the Navy base.”

There were other surprises in the study, including several from the Island County Jail. It found that half the inmates at the Island County Jail suffer from some sort of mental illness. McDonald said the jail is the most expensive way the county has in dealing with mental illness.

“The Health of Island County” is being distributed to local non-profit organizations, county offices, health department offices and the libraries. Work on the report will continue in the future.

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