President Donald Trump just delivered his annual State of the Union assessment and now the Guilford County Health Division of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services has released its also once a year “State of the County’s Health Report.”

Every year in that report, the Health Division offers its appraisal of the status of public health in Guilford County and identifies problems that need the most attention.

The annual report is meant to keep the county’s administrators, health staff and elected leaders informed about the health of the community as well as its needs.

The 2019 report singles out three priorities:

(1) access to healthy food

(2) a reduction in infant mortality rates, and

(3) a need to lower “the significant racial/ethnic disparities that persist across many health issues.”

The question of access to healthy food has been a major topic of discussion in recent years.  Nationally and locally, there has been concern about “food deserts” – areas where residents do not have easy access to healthy food such as fresh fruits and vegetables.  The effort to address that problem in Guilford County suffered a blow recently when the Renaissance Community Co-op – a grocery store set up in East Greensboro to make healthy foods more accessible to that community – closed down after about two years of operation.

Infant mortality rates and the racial and ethnic divide in health care have also come more into focus for the county’s health officials in recent years, and, in the 2019 report, they’ve risen to the top.

Guilford County Health Director Merle Green said that all health issues in the county are important and added that it’s always a struggle to prioritize them once a year.

“I really don’t like saying this is the top thing or that is the top thing,” Green said.  “I could go down the list and say that number 66 is a top thing.  If you’re a student in school and the roof is leaking, that will be a priority for you.”

Each year, the report plays a role in forming the Health Division’s plans for that year.

Some of the key areas of concern in the past have been maternal care and child health, behavioral health and an attempt to improve the social determinants of health in the county – “such as transportation, safe communities, access to care and family stress.”   The health division has begun programs like the Ready for School, Ready for Life program that begins working with expectant mothers and then helps oversee that newborn’s development until he or she is ready for school.

Guilford County is also in the process of establishing, with Cone Health and other partners, a major new behavioral health model to address mental health issues in the county.

According to the report, there are a number of steps county health officials intend to take this year to improve the county’s overall well being:

  • Institution of a plan called Public Health 3.0 that focuses on “joining forces with other health-related entities to create more synergies and to broaden our reach.”
  • Pursuing more grant dollars to expand the Health Division’s services.
  • Monitoring Guilford County Geographic Information Systems’ data to determine the leading causes of death and disability in various sections of the county in order to assure that resources are being placed correctly to achieve the greatest positive outcomes.
  • Advance Guilford County’s response to tobacco use in public places.
  • Extend partnerships with area colleges and universities on research initiatives and use student assistance to supplement the county’s health workforce.

In 2018, Guilford County was very active in cooperating with the University of NC at Greensboro (UNCG) to battle the area’s severe opioid addiction crisis.