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Health officials survey Monroe County residents to prioritize biggest health risks

A mother takes 'well being survey' alongside her sons at Bernstein Park in Stock Island.
Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County
A mother takes the paper 'well being survey' alongside her sons who received free bike helmets from the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County on March 9. during the SOS Field Day at Bernstein Park in Stock Island.

Monroe County officials are assessing the greatest risks to community health in the Florida Keys.

The Florida Department of Health is undergoing a community health assessment process that requires three different data sets, including a survey of people who live and work in Monroe County. The two other aspects include surveying community partners like local municipalities, police, hospitals and nonprofit organizations engaged on health topics as well as conducting a series of focus groups to discuss community needs.

“We essentially take all three assessments and consolidate them together to determine what are the top three priorities that are facing our county,” said Allison Kerr, the Director of Community Health for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County.

Kerr said the public health survey, known as the "well being survey" is one of the most important parts of crafting the department's Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP).

The plan will lay out the next five years of priorities for the health department. It’s based on methodology created by the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

READ MORE: Lack of access to medical care leading people to leave the Keys

It’s also important to maintain the department’s accreditation.

Their goal this year is lofty. The department hopes to garner 1,000 responses from people, which is about 300 more than they got in 2018.

The survey includes questions about a person’s demographics, their top health concerns, health habits, environmental health issues and social or economic barriers they face.

The department will analyze responses, along with data from the focus groups and partner survey and determine the top three health priorities facing the Florida Keys. The survey will also give insight into uninsured and underinsured people across the county, which Kerr said she hopes will inform where the greatest health needs are.

This is the department’s second time undergoing the community health assessment process.

The first assessment in 2018 determined one top health priority was access to care.

According to Kerr, the "access to care" workgroup that was formed met their goal of increasing the number of residents with healthcare coverage with assistance from community partners.

The objective was to decrease the rate of uninsured people across Monroe County from 19.3% to the state’s average of 15% by Dec. 2024, according to the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) for 2019-2024.

The 2023 data is anticipated to be made available this fall, Kerr said.

Medical professional staff retention remains a problem across the Keys, Kerr said. Another goal of the 2018 workgroup was to increase the number of medical doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants that live and work in the Keys.

While goals to increase the number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants seem to be on track, the number of medical doctors is decreasing.

“More work must be done to address MDs in our county,” Kerr wrote in an email statement.

Another priority was substance abuse and mental health. According to their CHIP document updated in 2022, both annual suicide and opioid overdose deaths have decreased from their baselines since 2018.

Now, the department is asking residents to help shape the future of addressing looming health concerns by answering the well being survey, which closes on April 30.

You can fill out the survey by visiting www.monroe.floridhealth.gov.

Julia Cooper reports on all things Florida Keys and South Dade for WLRN.
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