Smoking, obesity and substance abuse are among the city’s top health concerns, according to the results of a 13-week survey released Monday.
The community-based needs assessment, “UMatter Schenectady,” was led by The Schenectady Coalition for a Healthy Community and is the backbone for a community-based campaign that officials say is the first of its kind in the state.
The UMatter project kicked off in February with community health workers and college student volunteers going door to door to ask adults about their health.
All 10 of the city’s neighborhoods were canvassed, with a special emphasis placed on the most needy areas.
The initial goal was to collect 1,500 responses, but more than 2,200 surveys were completed, likely due to the fact that health workers from the community went door to door, said Erin Buckenmeyer, community health outreach coordinator for Ellis Medicine.
The survey, which sampled about 4 percent of the city’s population, included questions on demographics, personal health, health care access and utilization, housing, neighborhood safety, physical activity, healthy eating, food security, chronic diseases, employment, social services and mental health.
The results, which were analyzed over the course of seven months, revealed five main health priorities that need to be addressed in Schenectady: asthma and smoking; diabetes and obesity; inappropriate emergency department utilization; mental health and substance abuse; and adolescent pregnancy.
In response to the survey’s results, work groups composed of members of The Schenectady Coalition for a Healthy Community will put in place and monitor a community action plan that will address the city’s health priorities.
The coalition is a group of 57 health care, social, educational and community service agencies.
The plan of action the work groups will oversee is designed to minimize health disparities, cut down on preventable health conditions and deaths caused by them, and reduce unnecessary emergency room visits.
“To our knowledge, this is the only county in the state of New York that has brought together the public health department and the city and county and the acute care facility in the city to write a single document that describes how we view the health of our community and some of the ways we’d like to impact that going forward, with the full cooperation and the help of community organizations,” said David Pratt, Schenectady County’s medical director.
The UMatter survey provided a wealth of data to help form the community action plan.
The most surprising statistic it revealed was the high rate of smoking in the city, noted Buckenmeyer.
Thirty-seven percent of the respondents said they are smokers.
Data from the New York State Department of Health collected between 2008 and 2009 indicate that countywide, only about 17 percent of adults smoke.
Smokers who took the UMatter survey were asked if they had tried to quit in the past 12 months. Fifty percent said they had.
“We have a great opportunity to work with our community in this area,” Buckenmeyer said.
Extra weight was a problem for a large number of respondents. About 31 percent were overweight, 22 percent were obese and 23 percent were severely obese.
Emergency room visits were frequent over the past year, according to the survey’s results. Approximately 35 percent of respondents said they received care at an emergency department within the past 12 months, and about 14 percent said they had been admitted to the hospital during that same time period.
Depression also stood out as a local health concern. Roughly a quarter of those surveyed said they have been told by a health care professional that they have some type of depression, while nearly 27 percent of women surveyed who had been pregnant within the past five years said they experienced depression after giving birth.
Only adults took part in the UMatter survey, so questions weren’t asked about adolescent pregnancy, but after studying local data from other sources, it stood out as a significant issue, Buckenmeyer said.
The plan of action that was drawn up in response to the UMatter survey results will be submitted to the state Health Department Nov. 15 and then will be made public.
James Connolly, president and CEO of Ellis Medicine, commented, “I think we’ve literally revolutionized how local community organizations can work together to improve the health of an entire community.”
The diverse agencies that make up The Schenectady Coalition for a Healthy Community each offer a unique perspective on how best to address Schenectady’s health concerns, said Mayor Gary McCarthy.
Coalition member Michael Saccocio, executive director of City Mission of Schenectady, said the next step is to translate those ideas into positive change.
“I think the next big challenge is, how do we make sure that every single interaction, even if it’s not a health-related interaction, that we’re maximizing the opportunity to push forward these priorities,” he said.
The UMatter survey was supported by grants from The Schenectady Foundation and the Carlilian Foundation.