Clallam health assessment released; lack of access to healthy food noted

PORT ANGELES — A new health assessment has identified five key issues of concern and opportunity for Clallam County.

The 2017 Community Health Assessment underscored a lack of affordable housing, limited access to health care, substance abuse, geographic barriers to healthy foods and rising poverty rates, county officials said.

“We certainly understand that poverty is a main driver of poor health outcomes in our community,” County Health Officer Dr. Christopher Frank said in a Thursday interview.

“One of the interesting findings was access to healthy foods. Almost 60 percent of people in Clallam County live in what we categorize as a food desert, where it’s difficult or there’s a long travel time to get to a place selling fresh fruit and vegetables.”

About 20 percent of the state’s population lives in a food desert, Frank said.

The 38-page health assessment and supporting documents are available on the Clallam County Health and Human Services home page, www.clallam.net/hhs.

“I would certainly encourage anyone who’s interested to check that out,” County Commissioner Mark Ozias said in Tuesday’s board meeting.

“It is very broad. It relates to physical health and emotional health, community health, economic vitality, housing, etcetera. It’s really quite interesting.”

The Community Health Assessment was based on a survey of 1,353 Clallam County residents, a quantitative analysis of available data and focus groups conducted in Port Angeles, Sequim and Forks.

It will be used to develop a long-term Community Health Improvement Plan and to help local nonprofits find data needed for grant funding, Frank said.

A Community Health Assessment steering committee is asking community leaders to help whittle down the five key findings into two or three main priority areas.

“You really need to narrow this down to two or three items that the community has the energy and capacity to work on, and the interest,” Frank said.

Ozias, who serves on the Clallam Community Health Assessment Steering Committee, said the Community Health Improvement Plan would be likely released in September or October.

Survey respondents in the west and central commissioner districts listed alcohol and substance abuse as the No. 1 concern affecting their communities.

East county residents identified access to health care as their region’s top concern.

Mental health, available housing and poverty were significant concerns in all three districts.

“I really appreciate the report,” Commissioner Bill Peach said in the Tuesday meeting.

“I especially appreciate that there was detail by district in Clallam County. One of the things that I noted is that available housing is an issue in all three districts.”

The Steering Committee contracted with the Public Health Centers for Excellence to conduct 90-minute focus groups with key leaders in each commissioner district.

Participants in all three focus group discussed a lack of affordable housing, the opioid epidemic and surge in opioid-related deaths.

“Obviously, substance abuse and opioid abuse is a big area of concern,” Frank said.

Other common themes from the focus groups were a loss of living wage jobs, education funding cuts, the future of the Affordable Care Act, climate change, stringent environmental regulations and homelessness, according to the assessment.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.