If St. Clair County residents see an out-of-state or unfamiliar number light up their phone screens in the coming weeks, it could be a data collector calling with questions.
And health department officials want people to pick up.
The county is launching its next community health needs assessment, and over-the-phone surveys begin in the next week. The last health survey came five years ago with results publishing in 2017.
A cyclical process that helps develop community response plans, the assessment has previously addressed information about local adult’s health behaviors, including access to health care and literacy, chronic pain, common ailments and illnesses, caregiving, and substance use disorders.
This year, Dr. Annette Mercatante, the county’s medical health officer, said they’re adding questions about trauma and how COVID-19 impacted people’s lives.
“It’s about a 20-minute survey, so we’re hoping people take the time to do that,” she said.
“These surveys are anonymous. They are not reported with a name — even to us,” Mercatante added. “And they will be (put) out neatly in an aggregate form. … We’ve hired people that are professionally funded to do this.”
Who’s doing the survey?
The health department is using the same firm, Illinois-based VIP Research and Evaluation, that oversaw the 2016 survey.
At the time, it contracted for roughly $72,500. For this round, the county board OK’d a contract for up to $95,000 in May. Mercatante said the firm goes through a service to dispatch calls before data is aggregated.
Alyse Nichols, a health educator and health department spokeswoman, said the caller may show up as the Tennessee 423 area code.
“But depending on your phone provider, it may just say, ‘Private,’” she said. “So, we’re just encouraging people (to) answer the phone so we can capture the data.”
Mercatante said they need about 1,200 respondents, and that calls would likely continue into the fall or until they reached the target later this year.
What is the health information used for?
The 2016 health needs assessment broke results down into three regions of the county with data areas including lifestyle risks, mental health, and pregnancies, as well as prevalence of cancer, diabetes, lung and heart disease, stroke and more.
For example: About 33% and 32% of adults were obese and overweight, one in three adults reported not visiting a dentist, and three in 10 adults were smokers, which was higher than the national average. The incidence of all cancers was less than the statewide average, but the mortality rate in some areas of illness was higher.
Mercatante said many of those “issues are still really valid.”
Once data is collected and put together in report form, the health official said they’ll use it to develop annual plans in how to address key issues.
The annual update was supposed to come in the last few years, but she said the process was stymied by the pandemic.
Despite the setback, Mercatante said the benefits of a community-wide health plan were clear during the response to the pandemic. She pointed to groups like the Diversity Initiative of St. Clair County and Blue Meets Green helping spread vaccine awareness as examples of collaborative practices rippling out.
Moving forward, Nichols said, “We’re going to be using the data … to help with funding needs and to kind of prioritize where our resources go. The community voice is what’s going to lead that. That’s why we really need those responses.”
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.