Tag Archives: Gaston County DHHS

‘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.


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.


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)


FaithHealth – Gaston

SEABROOK SAYS: Do you know Lisa Marisiddaiah?. She is a parish nurse serving both First United Methodist and First Presbyterian churches. She too, is highly involved with a new process that, done in collaboration, will save significant money for the taxpayers while giving needed service to those who are just discharged by our hospital. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Did you know that there are almost 800 faith communities in Gaston County filled with compassionate members? Imagine if even a small percentage of those were willing to partner with a community initiative, not only to strengthen their own health ministries, but to reach beyond their own walls to assist their neighbors in need. And if faith communities in the same geographic regions were willing to collaborate, to create a partnership to serve those in close proximity by combining their assets, we could really make an impact…we are always stronger when we come together.

 FaithHealth-Gaston is a new community-initiated program. It is a “movement” of compassionate care, partnering the strengths of congregations, the clinical expertise of health providers, and a network of community resources. The goal is to assist patients by offering them a network that they can rely on, someone they can trust to be with them at a time of need. This program is strongly supported by CaroMont Health, the CaroMont Health Foundation, Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services, Gaston Faith Network, Gaston Together, HealthNet Gaston and the United Way of Gaston County.

There are many things we overlook in the course of our day, and maybe even take for granted…being physically able to drive ourselves to a medical appointment or having the ability to prepare a meal. And when we are not feeling well, most of us have family, friends or neighbors who can and will assist. We have the luxury of being blessed to have the basics that we need to have a comfortable life, good health, and a network of supportive people.

Imagine if you weren’t so fortunate. Imagine if you did not have a support system; if your health declined and you couldn’t drive yourself to the doctor’s office or to the pharmacy to pick up your medications. Imagine if you didn’t have the energy to stand up long enough to prepare yourself a nutritious meal, or even to get to the store to purchase groceries to make that meal. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many older adults in our community. Many go without proper nutrition or prescribed therapies because they lack access to transportation. Sometimes that can lead to a health crisis that could have been prevented.

After many months of planning, FaithHealth-Gaston will soon begin assisting frail, elderly patients who are being discharged from CaroMont Regional Medical Center; patients who do not have a support network in place. Hospital staff will assess the needs and make a referral to the FaithHealth-Gaston Community Coordinator who will connect the patient with a caring volunteer.

 Volunteers from congregations will offer health care ministries for their members and neighbors. When illness strikes, they’ll provide support before, during and after hospitalization. They’ll make home visits, provide emotional and spiritual support, and help with meals, transportation and picking up medications. Training will be provided to these volunteers in respecting patients’ privacy, hospital visitation, care at the end of life, mental health first aide, and other topics. Partnering congregations will receive a wealth of educational resources aimed at improving health. Volunteers will gain the many benefits that come along with helping someone else, and the recipients will witness what a true relationship between faith and health looks like.

If you have a desire to be a volunteer, or would like to see that additional information be presented to your faith community leader, please contact Lisa Marisiddaiah, RN, BSN, FCN, Faith & Health Ministry Manager, CaroMont Health. lisa.marisiddaiah@caromonthealth.org or 704- 834-3516

 For additional information, please visit http://www.FaithHealthNC.org/Gaston




The Seeds of Sustainability

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” – Chinese Proverb

If any example shows the importance of planting seeds and reaping the benefits of what we have sown, it is teen pregnancy. The teen pregnancy work conducted in Gaston County over the past five years has been historic. Historically low rates…historic elimination of the disparity between white and African American teen pregnancy rates…a historic funding opportunity that has brought an unmatched level of collaboration and commitment from our community.

It would be easy to sit back and enjoy our success; pat ourselves on the back and say job well done. But our job is nowhere near done.

As with any concluding program or grant, we are always concerned with what will happen next and as the Gaston Youth Connected (GYC)* project comes to a close this fall, it is this I’d like to talk about. I think the best way to break it down is to address three important questions that we have been asking ourselves over the course of this project.

What are we going to do to sustain this momentum?

Good public health programs should be aimed at both improving individual health outcomes and changing the systems and root causes of poor health. Similarly, Gaston Youth Connected was designed to initiate long-term community transformation in the way we deliver teen pregnancy prevention services. In this, it has been incredibly successful. Strengthened relationships between our health care providers, school staff, the faith community, and evidence-based health education programs for youth have laid the foundation for even greater collaborative work in the future. New and improved health centers, like our Teen Wellness Centers, now follow best practices for working with this population. The work to prevent teen pregnancy no longer belongs just to the health department. Teen pregnancy work is now in the hands and hearts of the hundreds of parents, churches, schools, community agencies, young people, and many others who have been involved in this project and their combined passion for this issue will live on.

What will teen pregnancy prevention look like after this grant ends in September?

In a lot of ways, it will look pretty much the same. Our Teen Wellness Centers will stay open and continue providing cutting edge, teen friendly health services to youth. Local community organizations that have received countless trainings and resources from the project will keep serving our youth with a new capacity to address their reproductive health needs in a way they didn’t in the past. DHHS’s teen pregnancy prevention programs will continue to educate local youth about how to protect their health and their futures. We have secured a new State grant to support programs that were initiated with GYC funds and our county continues to prioritize this issue by funding positions and programs that will sustain this work.

What have we learned from this project that we can use to guide our work in other areas?

Numbers don’t lie.  We’ve seen an amazing decline in our teen pregnancy rates.  This work, however, has also taught us a lot about what is needed to get such extraordinary results. Some of the major lessons-learned are:

Our work must start today. We know it can take years to see results like the ones we’ve seen in teen pregnancy. We cannot afford to wait for the right time or right program or the right funding opportunity. Even before GYC, we started making small but significant changes to our clinic structure to improve our teen services and had begun building relationships with other organizations to address teen pregnancy. These actions set the stage for an opportunity like GYC and greatly contributed to its overall success.

Collaboration is key. We cannot address health issues like teen pregnancy in silos. Just as there are many factors that contribute to public health issues, there are many people and organizations that can contribute to solving these problems. We must all come to the table and plan together.

Every penny spent in prevention is worth the investment. Think about the hundreds of teen pregnancies prevented over the past five years and consider the healthcare costs, the social costs, and the economic costs that are avoided by having young women and men able to focus on finishing school rather than supporting a baby. Conservative estimates approximate that in just 3 years we have saved over $6.5 million dollars. These are the types of returns on our investments that pave the way for long-term change and economic stability.

We are so thankful for the Gaston Youth Connected project for helping us plant the seeds for success in this health issue. But while we’re enjoying the shade beneath the trees that have blossomed from these accomplishments, let us continue planting seeds for future progress and future generations.

Chris Dobbins, Director                                                                                                                  Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services

*Gaston Youth Connected is a community-driven project that takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing teen pregnancy. You can learn more about the project at gastonyouthconnected.org

If you would like to learn more about any of the DHHS programs or public health issues mentioned in this article, please visit our website at www.gastonhhs.org or feel free to contact us through www.gastonhhs.org/contact-us.