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on July 28, 2013 at 7:00 AM, updated July 28, 2013 at 7:10 AM
Follow on Twitter
on July 28, 2013 at 7:00 AM, updated July 28, 2013 at 7:10 AM
Five health systems, 12 hospitals, three county health departments and a range of community partners in South Jersey got a check-up, last week when the results of a tri-county community health assessment were presented at Camden County College.
The study involved the Kennedy, Lourdes and Virtua health systems as well as Inspira Medical Center of Woodbury and Cooper University Health Care in Camden along with health departments from Gloucester, Camden and Burlington.
The purpose of the study, which is mandated by the Affordable Care Act, is to identify key health issues affecting consumers in the region.
Topping the list of pressing concerns in the three counties is access to health care as well as chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer along with mental health, substance abuse and obesity.
To complete the intensive 10-month study, the five health systems called on Pennsylvania-based research and consulting company Holleran.
They tapped secondary data from the Health Research & Educational Trust of New Jersey on a range of health statistics, combining that with a telephone survey of nearly 2,500 tri-county residents and interviews with 165 Camden City residents of diverse populations.
Researchers also conducted focus group discussions and interviews with 154 local community leaders.
While collaboration wasn't mandated, the director of communications for Inspira Medical Center of Woodbury said it made sense.
“We all serve the same communities, we overlap," said Molly Tritt. "There’s always strength in numbers ... There’s a competitive nature among hospitals, but this was very much a collaborative project.”
The data revealed various levels of health issues faced by each county, such as the percentage of respondents surveyed who said they needed to see a doctor in the past year but couldn’t due to cost.
Only 12.8 percent of respondents in Gloucester County said that was an issue, compared to 16.2 percent in Camden County, 15.9 percent in Burlington County and 38 percent in Camden City, which is consistently an outlier in the data.
Gloucester also ranked highest in insurance coverage, with 92.3 percent of residents surveyed reporting coverage by private health insurance or government-issued plans like Medicare. That compares to 87.9 percent in Camden County, 76 percent in Camden City and 90 percent in Burlington County. The average in New Jersey is 88.5, but just 84.9 percent nationwide.
For illness, diabetes, is a significant issue in all three counties, with reported rates slightly higher than the national and state averages of 9.3 and 9.2, respectively. Gloucester County has the highest rate of respondents reporting high blood cholesterol, coming in at 42.3 percent. That compares to 41.1 percent in Burlington County, 37.3 percent in Camden County, 37 percent statewide and 38.5 percent nationwide.
The survey found that Camden County has more high blood pressure, though, with 43.3 percent of respondents reporting a diagnosis, compared to 37.1 percent in Gloucester County, 32.3 percent in Burlington County, and 30.6 percent statewide.
Among the three counties studied, Gloucester has the lowest rate of asthma at 14.1 percent, but that number is higher than the state average of 13.3 percent and the national average of 13.5 percent. Camden City has the highest asthma rate with 27.7 percent, followed by Burlington County with 18.5 percent and Camden County with 17.8 percent.
Skin cancer rates were the lowest in Camden City, with just .6 percent of respondents reporting a previous diagnosis of skin cancer, compared to 7.3 in Burlington County, 6.6 in Gloucester County and 5.5 in Camden County. The national average is 5.7 and state average is 4.8 percent.
For all types of cancer, however, Gloucester County has the highest rates with 8.3 percent of respondents reporting a cancer diagnosis. In Camden County, that number of cancer diagnoses drops to 6.1 percent, compared to the state average of 5.5 percent and national average of 6.5 percent.
The survey also measured risk factors that contribute to chronic disease, including exercise, obesity and smoking.
In Gloucester County, 70.4 percent of respondents said they participated in physical activities in the past month, compared to 70.2 in Camden County, 60 in Camden City and 72.9 in Burlington County. The entire region comes under the state average of 73.4 percent and national average of 75.6 percent.
Gloucester County’s consumption of sugared soda was far below the national average, however, with just 11.3 percent of respondents replying they drank full-sugar soda on a daily basis in the past month. That compares to a 17.3 percent national average, 11.5 percent in Burlington County and 14.6 percent in Camden County.
The tri-county region was nearly equal in the percentage of fast food consumed, with 23.8 percent of respondents reporting consumption of fast food one to seven times a week. The same percentage applied to Camden County, but Burlington County came in slightly lower at 23.1 percent.
Smoking, a significant contributor toward cancers, breathing issues and a variety of health conditions, saw the highest rate in Camden City with 57.5 respondents reporting that they smoked every day. That number dropped to 31.3 for all of Camden County, 29.5 percent for Gloucester and 27.1 for Burlington.
In addition to the household surveys, researchers interviewed local leaders in health and human services, government agencies and community groups. The interviews identified five key health issues that applied to all three counties: access to care, diabetes, obesity, substance and alcohol abuse, plus mental health and suicide.
The interviewees pointed to a lack of health insurance for residents, the inability to pay out-of-pocket expenses, inability to navigate the health care system, lack of transportation, and lack of provider availability as the highest barriers to getting proper health care.
Focus groups, six in total with two per county, pointed to similar needs in the community, adding to the need for community awareness of available programs, a need for more mental and behavioral health services as well as a need for a centralized place to get information along with a listing of resources. These respondents suggested a range of improvements including transportation assistance, patient navigation services, nutrition and exercise programs, support groups, and chronic disease management programs among others
With survey results in hand, the health systems and county agencies will now establish a prioritization process to look closer at the areas of need and come up with collaborative ways to match the needs of the community with the ability and reach of each entity.
“Our next step for the whole collaborative is to get together and look at all of this and prioritize what issues we can effectively address and decide what organizations will address what,” said Frances Atkinson, vice president of marketing for the Kennedy Health System
For example, Kennedy could decide to tackle chronic disease, specifically diabetes, and put together an outreach program. Community organizations could offer venues to reach the community, and a county health department could address the need for better transportation.
The Gloucester County Board of Health has a community health plan in place to address some of the problems put forward in the survey, according to county Public Health Officer Annmarie Ruiz.
“Some of the issues that came out were already aligned with that,” Ruiz said. She added that the county board meets twice a year with hospitals and local boards of health to inform them about the available county programs including free flu shots to county residents, free screenings for various chronic diseases at the County Store in the Deptford Mall, and community resource guides provided to local medical practices.
“They’re all important topics,” said Ruiz. “We now have to work together, prioritize the topics and areas we’re going to focus on, and move forward.”
Contact staff writer Michelle Caffrey at