Wake County

Wake commissioners create task force to improve health in the county

Wake may have one of the healthiest populations in North Carolina, but it also has one of the highest rates of chlamydia and 25 percent of its population is obese.

So the Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday created a “Population Health Task Force” of 25 local residents to come up with ways to address an array of health-related issues, from physical inactivity to drunk driving.

“What we’re finding is that your ZIP code is a stronger determinant of how long you live than your DNA code,” said Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the Wake board.

The specific goals are yet to be determined. The task force is expected to come up with a strategic plan by April 2018.

Regina Petteway, Wake’s health services director, identified a half-dozen health issues that the county could address: Only 71 percent of female Medicare enrollees aged 67 to 69 get mammograms; nearly 20 percent of Wake’s driving-related deaths between 2010 and 2014 involved alcohol, and 14 percent of Wake minors live below the poverty line.

“The only caveat with those county health rankings is we’re number one in the state, but the state is 34th in the country,” Petteway said.

Wake is already taking steps to address some of the issues. For example, the county recently expanded the number of sites where residents can get tested for sexually-transmitted diseases. The county has also expanded its universal breakfast program at local public schools.

The task force plans to work with local organizations such as the Advocates for Health in Action, John Rex Foundation, the United Way and the YMCA to further address lingering health issues. Stakeholders can better tackle specific issues if they work together, said Sue Lynn Ledford, a director in the county health services department.

“You can take the drug overdose epidemic right now and see it in EMS, law enforcement, social services, health, hospitals, housing,” Ledford said. “You have to think of it like it’s a system and identify the stronger and weaker points to make them work more cohesively.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht