Category Archives: Health

Gaston’s Opioid Issue

SEABROOK SAYS:  To Gaston County residents: You, like most, are unaware of Gaston’s problems with opiate abuse and addiction.  It is bad.  We rank #5 in North Carolina behind Mecklenburg County, which is #1.  Read on, become aware and weep. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Initially, when the news started trickling out that Gaston County was one of the worst counties in North Carolina for opiate abuse and addiction, I sensed that many of my fellow residents were as unaware as I of just how deadly the epidemic was.  As we have begun to educate ourselves, the news has become pretty grim.  Consider this sobering statistic from the Gaston Gazette.

Gaston County remains one of the top counties in the state for heroin overdose deaths, ranking fifth in the total number of such deaths from 1999 to 2014.  Seventy five people in that time period have died from heroin overdoses, putting Gaston County behind only state-leading Mecklenburg (175), Wake (109), Guilford (103) and New Hanover (97).

When reading the stats and figures , remember we are talking about someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, child or spouse.  Opiate addiction does not discriminate and has permeated every race and social/economic demographic in Gaston County.  In fact, one of the quickest growing demographic is white, middle class women.  Whether or not we are aware, we all know someone who is struggling with this form of addiction.

How do we combat the crisis in Gaston?  Fortunately, we have some of the finest law enforcement agencies and some of the most knowledgeable addiction specialist, doctors, social workers and clinicians in the state.

The DDAT (Drug Diversion and Treatment) program initiated by Chief Ramey (Gaston County Police Department) has blossomed into an all hands on deck approach to not only assist those who are addicted, but work to keep them sober with short and long term goals and programs.  They correctly understand that we will not be able to incarcerate our way out of this epidemic.

Our Sheriff has partnered with CaroMont Health to provide over 500 doses of Narcan (a lifesaving drug that when administered can literally bring someone back from the brink) and is ensuring the proper training for GEMS and local deputies.

Our Gastonia City Police are also training their deputies on the use of Narcan and have been actively working with the DDAT program as well as increasing their arrests of major drug traffickers in the Gastonia.

Phoenix Counseling and other groups such as Gaston Controlled Substance Coalition, Partners Behavioral Health and the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services have also stepped up and initiated training programs, public awareness events and treatment programs to address the epidemic.

And still we need to do more.  We are making headway and lives are being saved, but as I talk with legal and clinical experts and recovering addicts; this struggle is far from over.

Gaston County has much to be proud of – we are ahead of many NC localities that are still trying to assess and respond to the crisis.  What is critical now is more community involvement and awareness.

Faith leaders can help by opening their doors for community discussions and allowing recovery groups to meet free of cost.  There is a real need for more ALANON and NARCANON groups to be formed and facilitated by trained staff.  This could be a real asset to the community.

Local schools (public and private) need to formulate or update drug deterrent programs that address the troubling rise in youth addiction and abuse of opiates.  Young adults are quickly becoming one of the most vulnerable demographics of opioid abuse.

Finally, all of us can help by talking to our friends and family about the dangers of abusing opiates, discarding and storing medications properly and the rise in heroin addiction.  Be aware, educate yourselves, form community watch groups and take care of one another.

Like any other crisis that has come our way , Gaston County can and will rise to the challenge.  What will determine the speed at which we gain the upper hand will be equal to the amount our local communities come together to help.  This is your community and our challenge.  Let’s meet this challenge together.  Are you ready?

Robert J Kellogg

Gastonia City Council (Ward 1)

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season

SEABROOK SAYS: Who here in Gaston Country would have ever thought we could be giving thanks and giving back as we have?  Read what Carrie Meier has to say. Who would have thought teen pregnancy would be reduced by 57.2% in a relatively short period?  We have proven we can do more – now let’s dedicate ourselves to doing even more.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The holidays are upon us and we often see this as a time to give thanks for what we have, to give back to our community, to reflect on what has happened throughout the year, and to gather together with family and friends.   For those of us who work in teen pregnancy prevention and reproductive health, we have much to consider this holiday season.

Giving Thanks

According to data recently released from the State Center for Health Statistics, Gaston County’s teen pregnancy rate dropped for the eighth year in a row in 2015. Since 2007, our teen pregnancy rate declined by an incredible 57.2%.  I am extremely thankful to see this number continue to fall.  I am thankful for the five years of funding, attention, and resources that the Gaston Youth Connected (GYC) project brought to address this issue in our community.  I am even more thankful for those who have continued to stay involved and dedicated to this cause now that millions of dollars are no longer at play.  If you have provided accurate information about sex to a young person, coordinated a sex education program at your church or home, joined the Teen Action Council, attended a teen pregnancy community advisory meeting, or helped a youth make an appointment at the Teen Wellness Center, I thank you.

Giving Back

So maybe you haven’t been involved in the effort to curb teen pregnancy… yet. Here are some ways you can help and give back to your community.

  1. Tell the young people in your life that you care about them and are available to answer their questions about sensitive topics. Their health and their futures are worth enduring an uncomfortable conversation.
  2. If you aren’t feeling up to #1, use your resources! Gaston County DHHS has programs to educate young people about puberty and sex AND programs to educate parents and other adults on how to talk to young people about these issues. There are also excellent websites with tips and good information – check out SHIFT NC or Advocates for Youth to start.
  3. Talk to leaders at your child’s school about the importance of comprehensive sex education. For many youth, school is their only source of sex education outside of the media, which can be highly inaccurate and biased.

Reflection

Though we’ve seen great success in Gaston County, we still have work to do. Our teen pregnancy rate is still higher than the State’s.   The rates among minorities are still disproportionally high when compared to those of young white women.  In fact, from 2014 to 2015, there was a slight increase in the teen pregnancy rate among African Americans in Gaston County.   We need to focus our efforts to ensure that this does not become a trend.  We cannot allow our minority youth to fall victim to cycles we have worked so hard to break.  We can’t do it alone.  We need your help.

Gather Together

Each quarter, DHHS hosts a Community Advisory Council meeting on the topic of Teen Pregnancy Prevention. This group, affectionately called GYC 2.0, has adopted the mission of Supporting efforts that empower Gaston County youth and their families to make safe and healthy decisions.  We need as many people as possible to advocate for this mission, to be aware of the work that is still happening, and to spread the word far and wide.  We need your participation and your support.  Join us.

Happy holidays to all.

 Carrie Meier is the Community Health Education Administrator at the Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services. She can be reached at carrie.meier@gastongov.com or 704-862-5405.

F3- Fitness, Fellowship, Faith

SEABROOK SAYS: Steven Long, the co-leader of Gastonia Sheet Metal, tells about his high level of commitment to F3.  F3, a national organization, was founded in Charlotte.  The organization is dedicated to grow young male county leadership in unique ways.  Gaston County desperately needs young leaders to emerge to lead us now and into the future. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

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Six days each week, usually in the gloom of 5:30 am or 7:00 am, men gather at different locations throughout Gaston County for a 45 – 60 minute workout. The number of attendees at any given workout can vary from 3 – 35+.  The rules for these ‘Boot Camp’ style workouts are very simple and are as follows, they are open to all men, are held outside regardless of weather conditions, are free, are led by the attendees in a rotating fashion and each workout ends with a Circle of Trust.

The F3 movement began on New Year’s Day 2011 in Charlotte, NC. The mission of the group isn’t to get men in better shape, it’s “to plant, grow and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership.”  You can find this exact wording on the website, www.F3Nation.com.

Something happens on the road to better leadership the F3 way with regular attendance at workouts. Regular attendees get in better shape.  It is impossible to attend multiple workouts each week and not see your fitness level improve.  Regular attendees meet other men with similar goals and thoughts on life, family, faith, etc.  This fellowship is ultimately what brings the men back week after week.  New friendships are formed from this fellowship and interaction leads to more opportunities to serve each other and the community.  Regular attendees become a part of a group that supports each other, motivates and holds each other accountable, and pushes each other to be better.

For me personally, the F3 story started in March, 2015 when a good friend from Church invited me to the first few workouts. Initially, there was one weekly workout held on Saturday mornings with the group meeting in the parking lot at the Schiele Museum.  When I finally got out for that first Saturday, I was blown away by what I experienced.  First, there were 18 – 20 persons in attendance including several that I personally knew.  There were guys from other F3 Regions there to lead the first few weeks of workouts until the Gastonia group was ready to lead on its own.  I had the same thoughts that most have at the first workout, “I’m not in good enough shape”.  What I found was a group of men working to be better regardless of fitness level.  I witnessed all ranges of fitness level that first day including guys who could have done that workout in half the time and then ran a marathon right after to guys who were struggling to keep up after the first 10 minutes.  It was terrific. I found myself to be somewhere in the middle of the pack that day for most of the workout and that is where I continue to be.  The guys in front did all they could to help the guys in back and that’s what struck me mostly at that first workout.  Since then, I have posted over 130 times, led 15 – 20 workouts and helped launch a workout in Lincolnton.  I have become close friends with men I would have never met otherwise and had these same men check on me after missing a few workouts.  I have found it to improve my daily outlook and health.

From that first workout in March, 2015 to now, we have grown to 13 different workouts throughout the week at 8 different locations and are looking to add more. We have multiple workouts scheduled each week in Cramerton, Gastonia and Dallas with the newest location on Saturday mornings in Belmont.  This link shows the exact locations and times, http://f3nation.com/schedules/gastonia-nc/ . Please come out and see what it’s about.  I can almost assure you won’t regret it…….at least not after getting a few workouts behind you.  Aye!!

steven-long

Steven Long (F3 Stroganoff)
President, Residential Divisions
Gastonia Sheet Metal

P.S. – At the end of your first workout, you’ll be given your F3 nickname…so think hard before answering those questions.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

SEABROOK SAYS: Carolyn Niemeyer gives every day to the Gaston community! Very few citizens will ever know how much she does. The back pack program she brings is incredibly successful.  Read her article and ask yourself’ “Can I help kids get food for the weekends?”  More readers need to step forward and help. How about you?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

How many of us have heard this phrase on TV and associated it with popular cereal?  Likely, many of us could just go to the kitchen in our homes and find cereal to eat.  What about the students in Gaston County who would not have had that opportunity if not for the BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc.?  The food bags received on Fridays have meant the difference between being hungry over the weekend and having meals to eat.  The students are so anxious to get the weekend food they start asking their teachers on Friday morning, “Are we getting our food today?”

The Gaston County Schools currently report that 66% of the student population is eligible for free lunch. This is a 10% increase in need from 2011 when the BackPack Weekend Food Program began.

The US Census Bureau reports that 44% of households in Gaston County have yearly income of $35,000 or less. These statistics indicate a need for economic improvement in our area.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. has grown from providing weekend food for students in 17 schools in the beginning to 43 schools currently.  The program provided almost 300,000 meals to 950+ students this year.  The operation of the program has grown out of the space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and will start the new school year in a larger warehouse space on Linwood Rd.  It is anticipated that the program will begin with around 1,000 students.  Just imagine how many volunteers this will take to get the food from the truck to the back packs of the students!

The good news is that with so many caring people in the community the task will be accomplished. The number of students in need will increase in the near future and food costs will continue to rise as much as 5 to 7%.  A registered dietician assists the program to provide menus that meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the students K-12 within the budget for the meals.

Many schools and teachers report that the students have hope when they receive the weekend food bags. Hope that someone cares about them weekly, not just one time. Surveys report that there has been an increase in positive behavior and daily work in the classroom because they are not concentrating on their growling stomach.  As a community, it is our mission to encourage these students to stay in school and receive their education.  Without education these students will have difficulty finding jobs that will sustain themselves or their families. Individual failure leads to family failure and community failure.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. is totally run by volunteers. Local churches and community groups provide funding for about 70% of the students. The remainder of funds come from grants, donations and fundraisers.

For more information about the program, how to make a donation, or volunteer, please visit our web site at http://www.backpackweekendfoodprogram.com.

You always stand taller when you kneel to help a child.”

Carolyn Niemeyer head shot

Carolyn Niemeyer Community Volunteer

 

 

HOPE

SEABROOK SAYS: Tony Sigmon is the leader of the Gaston County Family YMCA which has five operational facilities.  When the Y’s $18 million new facility is ready, Gaston County may well have the best in America. Tony writes on HOPE.  Read on and commit to give it your thought time. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

When my friend Bill Seabrook asked if I would write an article for “Digging Deeper,” it immediately hit me what I wanted to cover.   In a time like this, in a place like this, we all need a good healthy dose of Hope in our lives. For several years I have been pondering the question, “what is our greatest need?”  Looking around and seeing the unrest locally and abroad, observing the current political climate, seeing young people put off adulthood longer now than ever and seeing yet others have to jump into adulthood way too early; all of this brings me to my next question, where is the hope?  Some get so busy with day to day and yet others find ways to escape reality.  There seems to be a huge void of hope in our world.

Last week I had the pleasure of serving my 22nd year at the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Leaders School in Black Mountain, NC.  This “school” is a week long program where 700 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 from YMCAs throughout the South experience a physical education and leadership development training school so that they can become better leaders for their home YMCAs and communities.   Once again I was reminded what “Hope” looks like and through the eyes of a young person.   At the school there are eight 17/18 year olds who serve the school, having been selected the previous year as the “best of the best.”  They are called Honor Leaders.  Two of those Honor Leaders shared a reflection on HOPE.  Instead of listening to me pontificate, here is some of what they had to say.

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Hope. A small word, with a large meaning.  It plays a different role in each of our lives and there are many ways to define it.  Hope is looking towards the future with a clear vision.  Hope is acknowledging the uncertainty that is possible in any given situation.  Hope is our motivation to continue persevering through a difficult situation.  Often, hope is the idea we cling to when all our efforts have failed.  That small word, with such an incredible meaning, is essential to having a healthy spirit and mind.  Throughout different experiences in life, we have a persistent twinge of hope that the best outcome will be in our favor.  During these times, where do we find hope? Often we turn to temporary gratifications such as social media, negative attention or bad habits.  But they are just that, temporary and usually unhealthy.  Ultimately, this leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.  When we find hope in temporary satisfactions, we are restricting ourselves from experiencing the hope that God provides us every day.

Think back to when you were a young child. Can you recall just how simple life was then?  We were surrounded by stories of happily ever afters, courageous heroes and victorious underdogs.  As children we have so much hope around us every day that it’s hard to be anything but positive.  The older we get, the realities of life alter our pure sight of this hope and it becomes more and more blurred.  Although we no longer cling to fictional stories to instill our hope, we have things that we do believe in.  For us and so many more we have the YMCA.  Here we see hope in action.  We see it when the dreams of an underprivileged child come true, when a struggling parent receives the financial assistance she needs to allow her children to attend camp or afterschool so she can work without worrying about them, or when a lonely widower gets time to socialize while they exercise in classes at the Y.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to use the hope we receive every day and spread it to others.  We all of have the potential to be someone’s hero.

When I hear an 18 year old talk like that to a group of 700 teens and 200 adults, I am inspired. It ignites a Hope in me that I want to share with others.  Our local community is right at that “Tipping Point” and there are so many great things that inspirational leaders are doing here in Gaston County.  My closest and favorite example is the New Y at Robinwood Lake.  To be a part of this incredible community lifting project is amazing, but working alongside leaders like Andy Warlick, Gene Matthews, George Henry, Richard Rankin, Steve Huffstetler, May Barger and Frank Craig is beyond a blessing to me.  Seeing so many more people excited to the point that they give the largest gifts that they have ever given to any project is a testament to leadership, inspiration and hope.  It is also a focused energy that creates a best of the best attitude and an excitement that is unparalleled.  My hope is that this is a beginning for Gastonia and Gaston County to see how bringing energy, vision, community and leadership together around a common cause brings great hope and makes dreams come true.  We have great potential to thrive as leaders, as community and as a county.  Now, “go be someone’s hero.”

Tony Sigmon
CEO, Gaston County Family YMCA

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When the Stakes are High: The Journey to Rebuild Trust

SEABROOK SAYS:   Doug Luckett has consistently given Gaston County the kind of leadership we need.  Take note and decide today you will follow his leadership model. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

 “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”    C. S. Lewis

Trust is the basis for all good relationships, and for CaroMont Health and the citizens of Gaston County, trust can be the difference between life and death. If that sounds dramatic, I would encourage you to consider the relationship you have with your healthcare provider – the person you trust to make sure that when you are well, you stay well, and when you are sick, you are fixed quickly. In those moments, your health and in some instances your future is in their hands. In healthcare, trust is critical.

The first week I lived in Gaston County, I was eating in a local restaurant and speaking with my waitress. I mentioned I was new to the area and asked about her thoughts on a number of topics – How are the schools? Where can I get the best produce? Do you recommend a good dry cleaner? And then finally, What about the hospital? Her response was, “My parents always told me they would rather die on the way to Charlotte than go there.” Needless to say, all the information I had gleaned about CaroMont’s medical and quality outcomes prior to my arrival was immediately put in check. I think that conversation was the beginning of our understanding that, as the community’s healthcare provider, we must work to regain trust. I wish I could say that was the only time I heard that statement or other versions of it.

A lot has transpired between that day in early January of 2011 and today. After many opportunities to listen to patients and their families, our civic groups and our internal stakeholders, I sense that the community is more at ease when it comes to our Health System. Through approachability and calm discussion, we have changed course on many things we do, even as we have many things left to do to improve your experience with us.

All along the way, I have tried to have a very open discussion about the importance of our health system’s independence and what it means to citizens, retirees, employees, employers and anyone else who may need our services. Independence positions us to maintain the high level of services, convenience, jobs and affordability that our community deserves. But it also means that we are even more accountable because we actually live and work here. We are fortunate to live in a place where we have access to plenty of strong healthcare professionals, and I know that our physicians, clinicians, nurses, technical, support and volunteer staff try so hard to look out for their neighbors’ health and well-being.

Trust is fragile. Old paradigms, ongoing experiences and word-of-mouth are weighty methods of communication in our area, and I understand that many times we don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression. When it comes to your health, you should go where you feel confident you’ll get the best care. So, if we’re not your first choice, I invite you to give us a chance, and find out how we care. Because if “time is tissue,” earning your trust may mean we not only help save life or limb, but also help make your life, and health, even better.

Doug Luckett
President and CEO
CaroMont Health

How Do We Measure Up?

SEABROOK SAYS: How are we doing? Our health department does a superb job of measuring progress or, in some cases, the reverse. This article is a little longer than the usual. Regardless, take an extra minute to better understand the health situations right her where you live. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

2015 Gaston County Health Report Card

Each spring, Gaston DHHS releases a report card to help summarize the data behind Gaston County’s health. The following is a summary of this year’s report, available online at http://www.gastongov.com/departments/health-and-human-services/public-health-division/community-health-data.

How Do We Measure Up?

Based on county-level community and social data, our County has earned an overall health grade of B. This grade indicates that our residents are collectively making progress towards establishing and living healthy lives.

Chronic Disease
Cancer, heart disease, and lung disease are historically among the top leading causes of death among Gaston County residents. Gaston County has a grade of D in the area of Chronic Disease due to the increase in the heart and lung disease death rates. While there have been minor declines in those reporting having diabetes or being disabled, these gains do not, however, move the needle on our Chronic Disease indicators overall.

Child and Women’s Health
Healthy and stable relationships and environments are vital to the well-being of children. Over the years, programs and support have expanded in a way to further support the one of the most precious and vulnerable populations in our county. Remarkably, of the two is our infant death rate which has decreased by 25%.

The greatest success in women’s health in Gaston County has come through the: a)reduction in teen births dropping from 38 teen births per 1,000 teens to just under 30 teen births per 1,000 teens and b) the increases in women who have received a recent mammogram.

Environmental Health
Gaston County’s air quality has remained safe for sensitive groups for several years. This means that residents suffering from respiratory issues, youth, older adults, or those who are active outdoors were allowed to maintain their level of outdoor activity.

Behavioral Health & Communicable Disease
Behavioral health refers to the individual behaviors that often result in some social or health outcome. Suicides in the county have increased by over 35% from 2013 to 2014. Gaston County DHHS has made it a priority to improve the state of mental health in our county by advocating for additional resources and integrating mental health into public health practices.

Syphilis and Chlamydia disease rates have seen the highest rates of increase from 2013 to 2014 while HIV and Gonorrhea rates have begun to decline.

Socioeconomic Factors
Finally, the most challenging factor to influence is social and economic factors. While the county earned a grade of C, this doesn’t mean that our residents are not prospering—it means that the measured indicators are remaining relatively stable. Nonetheless, more residents are able to secure health insurance than in 2013. Of note, the rate of unemployment has decreased by 50% since 2013.

Based on data from our 2015 Quality of Life Survey, respondents stated that they appreciated that Gaston County felt like an intimate community and was slower paced than the city. However, a select group of respondents stated that they would like to an increase in jobs and business development in the county.

The Community Connection
Every three years we conduct a Community Health Assessment and write a report on Gaston County’s health and our leading causes of death, disability, and illness. We do this by using state data and conducting the Gaston County Quality of Life Survey, with a diverse sample of the population.

Through a combination of data from our 2015 Gaston County Quality of Life Survey, strategic planning data from the community, and data from the NC State Center for Health Statistics, our Board of Health has selected the following health priorities for 2015-2020:
• Integration of Mental Health Resources
• Childhood Obesity
• Improved Family Functioning
• Senior Livability and Support

You can get involved!
• Find an area or health issues that interests you.
• Contact us to let us know that you would like to help us.
• Spread the word! Ask your family, friends, or coworkers if they would like to get involved.
• Feel free to check our website http://www.gastonpublichealth.org for updates on our progress.

Shambreya Burrell
Public Health & Human Services Analyst
Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)