But health organizations in the county are learning that perception may not necessarily equate to reality, thanks to a countywide health assessment released earlier this year.
The comprehensive study was commissioned jointly by 19 different health partners, including both Elyria and Lorain health districts, Mercy Regional Medical Center and EMH Healthcare.
“It takes something like this to remind us we are just one big community, and we all have a place in change,” said Elyria Health Commissioner Kathy Boylan, who heads the Elyria and Lorain health districts. “Everyone has a piece of something. You don’t expect a drug and alcohol agency to immediately start working on obesity, but everyone has a part to play.”
As of 2011, 11 percent of adults in the county were without health care, 13 percent of adults had been diagnosed with cancer at some time in their life, 13 percent were diagnosed with diabetes and 14 percent had asthma.
The most prevalent health concern is obesity. Roughly 67 percent of Lorain County residents were considered to be overweight or obese based on body-mass index tests in 2011.
The statistics don’t surprise Patty McAndrews, 65, of Spencer. She sees the county weight problem every day. In the grocery, Walmart or just about anywhere, she sees people who look just how she used to look.
“And, when I see overweight people, I say I am so glad I did what I did and found my (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) group,” she said. “I know the help is out there. But weight loss is a very hard thing to do. You have to be determined and want to do it. Otherwise, you won’t succeed.”
Losing more than 100 pounds for McAndrews may have started as she walked into a regular Thursday evening TOPS meeting, but it was tough until she rethought her approach to food and exercise.
“When I was doing it on my own, I thought I would just eat a little less here and there and would be fine,” she said. “I would lose five or 10 pounds and then gain it all back and then some. TOPS taught me about portion control and making a lifestyle change.”
Other top health concerns include tobacco use — 22 percent of Lorain Countians smoke — and alcohol consumption — 13 percent of adults are frequent drinkers.
Drug use among adults and teens is considered high by many as well. In 2011, 7 percent of adults used marijuana, increasing to 16 percent of those younger than 30. One percent of Lorain County adults reported using other recreational drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, LSD, inhalants or Ecstasy. Prescription drug use was roughly 11 percent of adults.
“The numbers may seem small, but it’s a growing problem in this county and across the country,” Boylan said. “If you don’t think it’s coming to this county, you are being naive.”
The study data were compiled through countywide health assessment surveys administered in 2011 to adults and adolescents. All of the questions were modeled after similar surveys used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their national and state surveying systems.
The Public Service Institute of Lorain County Community College has helped develop a community health improvement plan based on the assessment, and the institute’s involvement gives Dr. Don Sheldon, EMH Healthcare president and CEO, faith that the study will do more than just sit on a shelf.
“We, as in the entire health community in Lorain County, have made a commitment to move things forward and by having an organization like the Public Service Institute involved makes me optimistic,” he said. “I would love to be successful in this venture so that we can be the ones people look to as a model of success for what a community can do to turn around their health.”
“But when you are looking at all the data together, it’s no small task. We want to achieve better health for our community and we want to do it in a coordinated and efficient way. The first step in that process was getting data. We all heard there are problems with teen pregnancy, tobacco use, drug use and obesity, but to have hard data lets us set outlooks.”
Shara Davis, dean of research, institutional effectiveness and public services at the institute, said the county’s health organizations are still planning.
“But that is a must to get to the action,” she said.
Since the assessment’s release in August, roughly 35 community sessions as well as almost 30 one-on-one interviews with health stakeholders have taken place. And, it appears that six to eight goals for the county will result, including improving access to healthcare; expanding coordinated, preventative health and wellness programs; addressing weight and obesity among adults and teens; and lessening alcohol, tobacco and drug use in adults and teens.
Sheldon, who is board-certified in family medicine and has been a volunteer physician for the Lorain County Free Clinic since its inception in 1986, has some ideas about where to go from here.
“Hospitals are key, but health is administered through a myriad of organizations, including public health organizations, federal-qualified health centers and even park systems, because they have a direct impact on whether a community has the public spaces to allow residents to be active,” he said. “But in any plan, there needs to be some personal engagement on an individual level. We have to educate the community on why they should care.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.