A recent health needs assessment study shows that the Tamaqua area is behind statewide and nationally concerning a number of health-related issues.

Hollie Gibbons, manager, Disease Prevention Programs at St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network, Bethlehem, summarized a health needs assessment survey for the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership during a recent Tamaqua borough council meeting. Borough council members were given an executive summary that explained The Tamaqua Health Needs Assessment results and a comprehensive report of demographic trends and the assessment analysis. Also included in report were plans for next steps to address the results and to generate interest in ways to engage additional community participation in future TACP activities.

"This population in Tamaqua wants to lead healthy lifestyles, but because of socioeconomic factors they are unable to do so," adding that high poverty rates, unemployment rates, uninsured rates and underinsured rates act as barriers for Tamaqua to lead healthy lifestyles.

The Tamaqua Area Community Partnership (TACP) contracted with St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network (SLHHN) Community Health Department to design and conduct a Tamaqua Health Needs Assessment in April 2010. The assessment, paid for by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, was done within the Tamaqua Area School District (TASD), which includes Tamaqua Borough, Rush Township, West Penn Township, Walker Township and Schuylkill Township and was funded by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). A variety of data collection methods were used to identify community assets, community concerns and individual health status. Information gathered from the assessment can later serve as baseline measures for community health status improvement efforts. Social and demographic data was collected and analyzed from a number of sources in Schuylkill county, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH), Schuylkill County, 2010 Health Profile, Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings, 2000 U.S. Census, 2005-2009 American Community Survey Estimates, National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion 2008, 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network, Tamaqua School District, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and 2008 National Occupant Protection Use Survey.

The needs assessment survey used 381 individual sample surveys, 37 key informants (interviews with community leaders) and other focus groups, to include interested residents. The results did not paint a healthy lifestyle for Tamaqua Area residents, according to Gibbons.The key informants were asked to speak about related barriers to health care, the geographic areas within the county most in need of health services and the relevance of certain health and social issues to residents. Key informants were also given the opportunity to provide "imaginary" health care funding to both the populations they perceived would benefit the most, in addition to the services that would demand the greatest attention.

The assessment shows that 15 percent of people interviewed in the 51 to 60 age group had no health insurance, which is higher than the national rate of 11 percent. Another 71 percent reported as "very serious or serious," alcohol abuse, illegal drug use and poverty.

In addition, the Tamaqua Area School District survey showed a higher number of overweight and obese students than the figures for the rest of Schuylkill County.

Micah Gursky, borough council president, stated, "I think the high levels of hypertension and diabetes were two health problems that stood out to me, these are issues you can't leave at home, they're with you all of the time."

The survey also pointed out that people affected with diabetes is three times larger in the Tamaqua area than in the state and national rates. Hypertension and stroke are also notedly higher.

Cigarette usage and obesity topped state and national rates in both adult and the lower levels of the school district.

"Those issues also lead to behavioral problems and that also concerns me," Cara said.

He also said he trusted the survey figures because the survey was conducted by St. Luke's Hospital.

Tom Cara, councilman, who also sits on the board of directors of the local YMCA, mentioned the facility can become part of the solution to getting more children and teens involved in activities that promote a healthy lifestyle. "Our YMCA is an excellent facility and we have over 1,200 members," Cara said.

Gursky mentioned that the survey is "pretty revealing", pointing out the higher rates of chronic diseases.

The chronic diseases, as well as hypertension and diabetes, include higher rates of asthma, angina, heart attacks and strokes.

"The next step is to form a subcommittee that can meet on a regular basis to come up with ideas and suggestions to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles," Gursky said.

He also pointed out that getting information or simply providing access to more information will help. Council can support more healthy and active lifestyles by developing more opportunities in the community, according to Gursky.

"The survey documents and identifies the problems and that allows us to prioritize what our community health needs are to be able to form a good health plan that will hopefully reduce the figures in the survey as people begin to live happier, healthier lives," Gursky said.

Gibbons added, "Small communities should be focusing on eliminating these socioeconomic factors, such as economic development, which would then ultimately impact health status."

To view the report, visit the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership website at www.tacp.info