DHEC wants your input on South Carolina’s most pressing community health issues

If nothing else, the past few years on planet Earth have shown us how complex, fragile, and unpredictable public health can be. But the years have also shown us how interconnected we are.

That kind of insight is coming at a good time for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) as the agency is in the early weeks of its statewide community health needs assessment study.

The assessment is a 35-question online survey designed to help DHEC understand which five health factors are most important to South Carolina.

“Back in 2017, the state began a state health needs assessment process … to see what are South Carolina’s top health priorities?” said Suzanne Sanders, DHEC’s director of community engagement. “What are the things we need to work on?”

DHEC found that access to care, chronic disease and mental/emotional health ranked high in South Carolina’s mix of priorities. And while Sanders says it’s “hard to predict what themes might surface” for the ongoing study, she suspects mental health concerns play a big role.

“With everything that’s happened in the last two and a half years,” Sanders says, “we’re probably going to see mental and behavioral health issues rise very high in priorities. But we are still waiting to see what will come out of all the data.

That’s where the “South Carolina voice” comes into play, she says. In order for DHEC to know which health issues are most important to the community, the agency needs feedback. The survey you can fill out by clicking HEREis anonymous, takes about 10 minutes, and seeks to find out what South Carolina thinks, both from a personal perspective and from a community perspective.

The goal, Sanders says, “is to develop a new and updated State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP). What are those four or five priorities that we as a state want to look at to make South Carolina healthier and improve health outcomes for everyone here?”

Sanders says SHIP is not a simple government agency report, but rather a follow-up document delivered directly to the public and to organizations that are most in touch with people at the community level. As in 2017, DHEC is working with schools, churches and library branches across the state to give more people access to the survey. This is especially important for finding information from sometimes isolated or more remote communities in South Carolina that may not have full access to Internet services.

“Do we have enough representation from South Carolina’s senior citizen community? Do we have enough representation from rural communities?” Sanders asks.

The new SHIP, which DHEC wants to see sometime in 2023 when the current one expires, would be used to help state officials better understand which areas of public health need the most attention and possible funding, says she.

“The goal of the project is to get input from South Carolinians to understand what they see as needs by looking at the other data sources we have and then identify … those five key topics or issues that we as a state can to come together to try to cope,” she says.

Sanders can’t predict what the ongoing study (which went live in July and will run indefinitely) will find, but she says the main areas of public health concern in South Carolina, as she sees them, are mental and behavioral health (including substance abuse problems, which have increased since the start of the COVID pandemic, and the chronic health factors that surround conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, prediabetes, and obesity.

DHEC hopes to have preliminary results from the study by the end of October.

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