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DHEC wants your input on South Carolina's most pressing community health issues

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DHEC
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If anything, the past few years on Planet Earth have shown us just how complex, fragile, and unpredictable public health can be. But the years have also shown us how interconnected we are.

This kind of epiphany turns out to be good timing for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), as the agency is in the opening weeks of its statewide Community Health Needs Assessment survey.

The assessment is a 35-question online survey aimed at helping DHEC figure out which five health factors are the most important to South Carolina.

“Back in 2017, the state embarked on a state health needs assessment process … to see, what are South Carolina's main health priorities?” says Suzanne Sanders, DHEC’s director of community engagement. “What are the things we need to work on?”

DHEC found that access to care, chronic conditions, and mental/emotional healthcare finished high in the mix of South Carolina’s priorities. And while Sanders says “it's hard to predict what topics may pop up to the surface” for the currently underway survey, she suspects mental health concerns to factor in big.

“With everything that's gone on in the last two and a half years,” Sanders says, “we probably will see mental and behavioral health issues rise very high in the priorities. But we still are waiting to see what comes out of all the data.”

This is where “the voice of South Carolina” comes into play, she says. In order for DHEC to know what health issues are most important to the community, the agency needs feedback. The survey, which you can take by clicking HERE, is anonymous, takes about 10 minutes, and looks to find out what’s on South Carolina’s mind, both from a personal and a community perspective.

The objective, Sanders says, “is to develop a new and updated State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP). What are those four or five priorities that we as a state want to address to make South Carolina healthier and improve health outcomes for all here?”

Sanders says SHIP is not a mere state agency report, but rather is a consequential document delivered directly to the public and to entities that are most in touch with people at the community level. Like it did in 2017, DHEC is working with schools, churches, and library branches all over the state to give more people access to the survey. This is especially important for finding input from sometimes insular or more far-flung communities in South Carolina that may have spotty access to internet services.

“Do we have enough representation from the senior citizen community of South Carolina? Do we have enough representation from rural communities?” Sanders asks.

The new SHIP that DHEC wants to see by sometime in 2023, when the current one expires, will be used to help public officials better understand which areas of community health need the most attention and, possibly funding, she says.

“The purpose of the project is to get the input from South Carolinians to find out what do they see as the needs, looking at the other data sources available to us, and then determining … those five key topics or issues that we as a state can come together across the board to try to address,” she says.

Sanders can’t predict what the current survey (which went live in July and will stay up for an undetermined amount of time) will find, but she says the main areas of concern in public health in South Carolina as she sees them are mental and behavioral health (including substance abuse issues, which have increased since the onset of the COVID pandemic, and the chronic health factors that surround conditions like hypertension, diabetes, prediabetes, and obesity.

DHEC hopes to have preliminary results from the survey available by the end of October.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.