The bad news and the good news about the county’s health


    The old saying “I have some good news and some bad news” seems a bit worn out these days.  But here it is. Recently, the One Maine Health Collaborative, a consortium of Maine hospitals and health organizations dedicated to improving the health of Maine people, released its health rankings for the state.  The bad news for Piscataquis County is we ranked dead last in overall health and last or near the bottom in most individual conditions looked at. They looked at rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and stroke as well as mental health conditions such as suicide, depression and anxiety.  They studied access to primary care services and rates of flu and pneumonia shots, as well as how many people get recommended screening for cancers like breast, prostate, colon and cervix. Piscataquis County has fallen way behind on all these measures. 

  Why does this matter? Because poor health is costing our region in many ways. It is costing employers who have a less healthy workforce, potentially higher insurance premiums  and see many missed work days; it costs individuals who can’t enjoy vibrant lives due to chronic diseases that are preventable like smoking related lung diseases and cancer; it costs our community in vibrancy and energy; it costs lives prematurely. It decreases the desirability of the region for new businesses and leads people to leave. It costs society in general because it costs more to care for people who are ill than to prevent illness in the first place. As a physician, and as someone who has spent my entire adult life working to improve health of my community, this status quo is unacceptable to me.  I am alarmed but awakened by these data, and am only more committed to working hard to turn things around. 
    Now for the good news. We have the resources to change this. Not only do we have two excellent hospitals with skilled nurses, doctors and other primary care providers, but we also have many, many regional organizations providing health related services such as the YMCA, Friends of Community Fitness, Penquis, Charlotte White Center, Eastern Area Agency on Aging, Maine Highlands Senior Center, schools, etc. In the past year these organizations and others have come together under two grants from the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF) to try to  address the issues and to promote change:  Thriving in Place  (a grant awarded to Charlotte White Center) and Healthy Communities (spearheaded by the PRYMCA).   These initiatives are engaging the community actively in seeking solutions to the problems of health in the region, but the solution can’t be done from the outside. The leaders of these initiatives will not be finding a fix and imposing it on the communities. That just will not work. 
    We are going to have to change our culture, change the way we think about health and wellness in our daily lives. We are going to have to make personal efforts to become healthier individually and as families, schools, workplaces, churches and other institutions. We are going to have to talk about and take action on difficult things like poverty, domestic abuse, smoking and alcohol abuse, obesity and poor education. We are going to have to tackle these problems using cooperation, determination and creativity. We are going to have to develop a sense of personal and collective responsibility for our own health and the health of our friends and neighbors. 
    As a first step in this effort I am urging everyone to get an annual flu shot. Preventing influenza is simple and very effective in creating a healthy community. The time to be vaccinated is in the fall, now. Flu shots are being offered at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, clinics. Note: the recent health study showed men in Piscataquis County to be least likely to get a flu shot. So men, listen up! 
    Please join with me and the TiP and Healthy Communities teams to make Piscataquis County a place where we can all thrive. If you are interested in contributing time to the above projects, or for more information contact  Meg Callaway 947-1410, Erin Callaway 564-7111 or Lesley Fernow 992-6822.

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