Edgecombe faces health challenges


Staff Writer

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Edgecombe County still remains near the bottom of the state’s county health rankings, according to the latest report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Edgecombe County ranks 97 out of 100 North Carolina counties in terms of health outcomes, which are calculated on expected length of life and quality of life. This is the same ranking it held last year. 

It also ranked 96th in the state in terms of health factors compared with 95th place last year. Health factors are rated according to measures of health behavior, clinical care, physical environment and social and economic factors. For social and economic factors, which include measures of education, poverty, unemployment and death from injury or violence, Edgecombe County ranked 99th in the state.

“Unfortunately, Edgecombe County's health rankings have remained about the same since last year,” said Michelle Etheridge, deputy health director for the Edgecombe County Health Department. 

However, Etheridge said the county has seen a slight improvement in the teen pregnancy rate.

“We have seen a slight decrease in the number of teen pregnancies since 2017. We were at 61 (births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19) and we are down to 49,” Etheridge said.

The average rate for North Carolina counties is 27.

Etheridge credits new programs in the county for the progress that has been made in this area.

“This is the fourth year that we have implemented Project REACH — Redefining and Empowering Adolescent & Community Health — in Edgecombe County schools. Project REACH is a five-year grant provided by the state to implement a pregnancy and STD prevention program in the Edgecombe County Schools, as well as the community. Project REACH consists of two comprehensive sexual health curricula: Making Proud Choices for eighth-graders and Reducing the Risk for ninth-graders.”

Another area that has seen slight improvement is health behaviors such as smoking, drinking, obesity, exercise and STD rates, Etheridge said.

“We have also seen an increase in our health behaviors ranking since 2017, which shows that people are making behavior changes to live a healthier life. People are reporting that they are physically active and have increased access to healthy food,” Etheridge said.

She said Edgecombe County still faces many challenges around access to care and lack of resources.

“Measures are based on statistics. Several agencies in the county along with regional organizations have been working on health care access and promoting healthy choices. However, measuring change on a larger scale, like the county health rankings, may not show significant increases and may remain the same. Significant change in statistics requires several years of consistent funding and resources,” Etheridge said.

However, the health department and the hospital are working together to try to help find better ways to improve these measures, Etheridge said.

“Edgecombe County Health Department and Vidant Edgecombe hospital just finished collaborating on Edgecombe County's 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment. Priority areas selected for the health department to work on over the next three years are chronic disease, mental health and health equity. We continue to partner with local agencies in seeking funding and resources to help improve the health and well-being of Edgecombe County. Collaborating and working alongside other agencies has allowed us to increase our capacity to improve the health of Edgecombe County residents,” Etheridge said.

For more information about the 2019 Edgecombe County Health Rankings, go to http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/north-carolina/2019/rankings/edgecombe/county/outcomes/overall/snapshot.