Annual community health survey includes impacts of COVID-19 in North Country

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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — A newly released community health survey is detailing the impacts of COVID-19, as well as current lifestyle trends in the North Country.

Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization released its 2021 Community Health Survey on Tuesday. This surveyed adult residents in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties with the intent to support and plan future initiatives, monitor community-wide changes and raise awareness.

According to FDRHPO Data Analyst Megan Donato, data from the survey is used to develop “actionable items” that target healthcare needs in the North Country.”

“This year, the survey helps provide further insight as to the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the health of the community,” Donato said in a press release. We expect that, along with the serious health concern posed by COVID-19, the pandemic has many indirect consequences on an individual’s health. Many measures are returning toward normal, such as people regularly receiving healthcare for example; however, it is apparent that there are many health concerns yet to address.”

Highlighted findings included metrics in experiences with health services, personal health, current lifestyles of North Country residents and the impacts of COVID-19. This detailed experiences with healthcare providers, telemedicine, alcohol, marijuana use and COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Specifically, the survey determined that four out of five North Country residents in 2021 had one person or medical office they consider their personal doctor or healthcare provider. This is a rate that has remained steady since 2016. However, interest in using modern technology such as email, text messages or online portals has doubled since 2019.

This was shown in the tremendous increased use of telemedicine in the region, with participation rising from 29% in 2020 to 30% in 2021. One in three residents indicated they would likely choose telemedicine over an in-office visit and one in five said that in the past year, telemedicine assisted in medical care. The top rates barrier to telemedicine was quality of care.

The survey also detailed personal health trends. This included visits to the dentist’s office. According to the study, the rate of routine dental cleanings is significantly lower in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic rates.

FDRHPO stated that when North Country adults self-assessed their physical and dental health, ratings are returning toward the typical pre-pandemic ratings. Five-sixths of adults in the North Country said they had been to a primary care doctor’s office at least once in the past month. However, residents’ ratings of their mental health have continued the negative trend that began in 2020.

Regarding lifestyle trends, alcohol use in the North Country has slightly increased since last year. The survey found that four-fifths of residents said they drink alcohol, and three-fifths said they drink alcohol at least once or twice a month or more.

Meanwhile, the use of conventional cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, or e-cigarettes has remained more constant at 17%, 5%, and 9% respectively. Marijuana use was also found to be as common as tobacco use among North Country adults.

Residents showed more opposition than support to prohibiting marijuana dispensaries in their municipality. They also tend to believe that the legalization of marijuana will increase youth experimentation and few report that the new legalization law will cause them to start using marijuana if not already a user.

Highlighted COVID-19 data included vaccination rates. At the time this data was collected, approximately two-thirds of participants, among those ages 18 years and older, stated that they were fully vaccinated. Among the unvaccinated, when asked “what would have the greatest impact on encouraging them to get vaccinated,” the most common response was “Nothing.”

Additionally, attitudes among parents regarding COVID-19 vaccination of their school-aged children are widely varied and tend to strongly parallel the parents’ own personal vaccination choice.

This data was found after surveying community members in the tri-county region. The sample size in the 2021 survey was 1,622, resulting in an average margin of error of ±2.5%. The 2021 Community Health Survey is lead by North Country Health Compass partners which includes representation from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence county public health departments, hospitals, healthcare facilities, behavioral health clinics, and a wide array of community organizations focused on community wellness and education. 

The full survey can be found online.

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