The public gathered at the Louisville Free Public Library to discuss how to make Louisville a healthier city. | Photo by Darla Carter

Access to health care and affordable fresh food are the top things needed for the Louisville area to be healthy, but drug abuse also is a big concern, according to a recent community health needs assessment involving 3,500 residents.

Community Health Needs Assessment 2017. Source: Center for Health Equity

Survey results from the assessment were unveiled this week as the city brought interested residents together at the Louisville Free Public Library to help shape a community plan called Healthy Louisville 2025.

“It’s always good to talk about the health of our city and see what’s going on and how we can do better,” Mayor Greg Fischer said during the gathering.

Fischer said the city is making progress in some areas, such as tackling hepatitis A and drug overdoses, but still has a way to go, from violence to big differences in life expectancy.

“It’s about a 30-minute drive from Tom Sawyer Park in east Louisville to Shawnee Park in west Louisville, but the difference in life expectancy when you drive those 30 minutes is 12 years,” Fischer said. “A city of conscience doesn’t just say that’s acceptable. We have to say what is it that we can do about that?”

The meeting gave participants a chance to reflect on local health issues and to ponder the latest survey results as well as other information, such the city’s recent Health Equity Report. Participants also got to share opinions and suggestions on where the community should focus its efforts as it strives to improve health over the next seven years.

“It’s a much better system when the community is telling us what they need rather than us going in and being paternalistic and telling them what they need,” said Angela Graham, a community health administrator in the Center for Health Equity, which is part of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

Residents were surveyed online and on paper as part of a community health needs assessment involving Public Health and Wellness and hospitals in the area.

When asked what communities need to be healthy, 35 percent cited access to health care. Many people also noted the importance of access to affordable fresh food (34 percent), good schools (33 percent), good jobs (33 percent) and a clean environment (33 percent).

Community Health Needs Assessment 2017. Source: Center for Health Equity

When asked about the barriers to receiving health care, 23 percent cited timely appointments while 22 percent said they can’t take time off work. Eighteen percent said they can’t afford their prescription and 17 percent said they can’t afford the visit.

When asked what your community needs to work on, more than 60 percent of respondents cited drug abuse, followed by distracted driving (39 percent). Other concerns included poor eating habits (33 percent), alcohol abuse (32 percent) and tobacco abuse (32 percent)

Addiction came up as the top issue when respondents were asked what are the most important health outcomes. It came in at a whopping 64 percent, followed by obesity (35 percent), gun violence (33 percent), mental health (26 percent) and heart disease (23 percent).

Graham said consumers’ emphasis on drug-related issues reflects the fact “that the opioid crisis had such a broad impact on our community and our region. … It’s on everyone’s minds, and in Louisville, we’re hearing about it even more with the launch of the ‘Hope, Healing and Recovery’ plan” to address issues related to substance use disorder.

As part of the Healthy Louisville 2025 planning to address various health issues, the city will be working with community members to develop a strategic action plan with measurable goals, Graham said. “We’ll begin inviting work groups to help us build this plan, leveraging the assets our community already has.”

Participants broke down into groups for the Healthy Louisville 2025 discussion. | Photo by Darla Carter

At Wednesday’s discussion at the library, many participants offered suggestions, such as making sure there are connectors or navigators to help patients and people get all their concerns met; improving collaboration among groups so that people aren’t working in silos; and providing support for families to make sure children are kindergarten ready.

Common topics raised by participants included reliable transportation, green spaces, healthy food and safe, affordable health care; being able to get jobs with livable wages; and addressing various equity issues.

Monica Unseld, who attended the gathering, said she would like to see some meetings held in the evening so that more of the community can participate.

Unseld, a research associate for the Greater Louisville Project, said she is concerned about environmental racism and environmental justice.

“We’re looking at low-dose, long-term exposure, and people may have multiple cancers, they may have learning disabilities or mental health issues or behavioral problems that are caused by exposure to pollution and toxic chemicals and the doctors may not know what questions to ask,” Unseld said. “The city may not realize that every job may not be a good job. If it’s a job that’s going to make you sick, do you want to bring them to our city? I think health is the foundation for a competitive city, so I think we need to get rid of those health disparities.”

Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.