With the consolidation of the Gaston County Health Department and the Gaston County Department of Social Services on July 1, 2013, our county took an enormous step to improve the public’s health and wellbeing.
This merger works because public health and social services look at the same issues through different and compatible lenses. While public health works to improve community health by preventing disease and promoting health, social services protects vulnerable populations and promotes the wellbeing of families and individuals by assuring they have essential resources for healthy living.
Historically, our departments have addressed the causes of situations treated by the other. So, when public health professionals talk about social determinants of health they speak about the poverty, poor nutrition, families in crisis, limited access to healthcare, and unemployment addressed daily by social services professionals. And, these social services workers often cite poor health as the reason so many of their clients face difficult and challenging life circumstances.
So, the merging of public health and social services into the Department of Health & Human Services creates opportunities for these staffs to collaborate and bring more prevention and intervention programs to their clients. Today, we are actively engaged in strategic planning to build these program connections.
Looking at the five leading health issues in Gaston County, based on priorities set by the Board of Health in January 2013, it is clear prevention offers opportunities to avoid and delay their onset:
- Obesity, which is clearly linked with diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Obesity can often be prevented through regular physical activity, good nutritional practices, and timely medical management.
- Teen pregnancy. Between 2010 and 2012, our county’s teen pregnancy rate dropped 28% because of collaborative community education and new
- clinical services.
- Use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, which influence the onset of cancers and respiratory disease (tobacco), and accidents, family violence, and crime (alcohol and drugs).
- Integrating behavioral health and physical health to work on the health of the “whole person.” Because we are physical, social, and emotional beings, developing this approach will enable us to greatly improve community health.
We are also beginning to explore the concept of Health in All Policies which would have us work with community organizations to understand how our decisions affect Gaston County’s economic, physical, social, and living environments. By considering the health implications of these decisions, we will have another tool for making our County a healthier place to live, work, play, and pray.
Director, Gaston County Health & Human Services