The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is partnering with the Hamilton County Health Department to conduct the most comprehensive health assessment in the county’s history.
Dr. Dawn M. Ford, president-elect of the Tennessee Public Health Association and UTC assistant professor of public health, has collaborated with the epidemiology staff at the Health Department to create a survey to assess the county’s health needs.
Pre-pandemic, the Health Department would release county-wide health assessments called “Picture of Our Health.” Reports are done every 4-to-5 years, with the last assessment being released in 2019. The county is due for another assessment, especially given how the pandemic changed health needs.
This year’s assessment will expand on those of previous years by gathering data in new ways. Ford explained that in years past, assessments used reports, national surveys and surveillance data. Now, the assessment will also include data collected from a survey conducted by UTC and the Health Department.
The survey will fill in the gaps in the surveillance data. Previously, “If someone didn’t go for treatment or have access to healthcare, their health conditions were not captured,” said Ford.
The survey will be available to all residents of Hamilton County over the age of 18. The survey will be accessible throughout April, with options to take it online or fill it out with pen and paper. Typically, Ford said, one month is a long time to conduct a survey, but she is hoping to see thousands of completed surveys.
The survey is anonymous but will record various demographics like zip code, age and race. In addition to being made public on the Department of Health’s website, findings will also be presented to the Regional Health Council.
The Regional Health Council is represented by health-related area nonprofits. The data will better inform the council where their efforts will have the most significant impact.
The goal of the survey is not just to compile data. “The point of the survey is to take action,” said Ford.
The survey was crafted with accessibility in mind. Ford and Health Department colleagues considered factors like health literacy and reading level.
“We wanted to create a survey that people can read, understand and feel comfortable responding to,” she said.
UTC students in the Master of Public Health program are helping to share and conduct the survey. Students in Ford’s Health Communication and Promotion course have created promotional materials for the survey while also embedding positive health messaging on subjects they are passionate about. Other students working with the city of Chattanooga go door-to-door in low-income neighborhoods to share information about the survey.
Ford sees the survey as a valuable opportunity for students.
“A lot of times you have class projects,” she said, “and when they are submitted to the instructor that’s the end of it, but these students will share their projects with the Health Department and community partners so they can be utilized.”
This survey will collect data on public perception, which surveillance data cannot. Rather than only asking about what health problems one person faces, the survey asks questions like, “What do you see as a concern for your community?”
The survey also aims to capture some of the changes in healthcare post-COVID-19.
“Mental health concerns have been elevated,” Ford said. “Collectively, we’re different from how we were before COVID; people are still recovering from that. Also, with inflation, it’s harder to access healthy food with prices going up. There are also people suffering from long COVID. We are trying to capture the long-term consequences of the disease because we don’t really know the extent of it.”
Ford hopes to present and publish the report’s findings upon approval from the UTC Institutional Review Board. She said she is seeking thousands of participants for the comprehensive survey.
To take the survey online, click here.
To see the Hamilton County Health Department press release announcing the launch of the 2023 public health survey: Public Health Survey_Press Release.pdf.
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By mid-April, and less than two weeks after the announcement of the survey’s launch, more than 1,100 responses had been received.
Ford, students in the MPH program, health department employees and members of the volunteer Medical Reserve Corps went door-to-door canvassing in Hamilton County on Saturday, April 15, asking residents to complete the survey. More than 100 responses were collected.