BELFAST — Results are in for the 2022 Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment Report and mental health related issues was identified as the number one health priority for Waldo County.

The report, released July 19, consists of data acquired mostly prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the report does include some information gleaned from a 2021 community health needs assessment outreach program that did take place during the pandemic.

Regarding COVID-19, the 2021 assessment noted that challenges in accessing care have impacted chronic disease management and caused delays in non-emergency procedures. Rates of those seeking medical care for even acute health events such as heart attack, stroke and uncontrolled high blood sugar were low during the early phase of the pandemic. Later in the pandemic, health care usage data from July 2020 through July 2021 showed that increases in ICU bed occupancy were followed weeks later by a higher number of deaths not caused by COVID than typically seen before the pandemic, the report noted.

The top health priorities in both 2018 and 2021, as identified by participants in the needs assessment report, were mental health, social determinants of health, access to care and substance and alcohol abuse.

With respect to mental health, the key takeaways listed in the report were extremely long wait lists for services and the need for more case management, supportive and wraparound services.

Waldo County community members specifically noted the low availability of mental health providers in the area for both inpatient and outpatient care, the report states.

Mental health issues among young people were also listed as a concern. In 2019 38.4% of high school students and 26.4% of middle school students in Waldo County reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row, according to the report. Data also showed that 15.7% of high school students and 19.5% of middle school students seriously considered suicide during the same period. These rates track with overall rates seen throughout the state, according to the report.

In Waldo County, the percentage of adults with depression is estimated at 8.9%, which tracks closely with the state rate of 9.5%. Rates of anxiety however were lower in Waldo at 18.7% compared to 21.4% statewide.

Another issue of concern in Waldo County is what is defined as social determinants of health. According to the report, 13.5% of individuals and 18.6% of children in Waldo County live in poverty. The median household income was $51,931 for the period of 2015-2019, which was lower than the statewide rate of $57,919. Additionally, 11.1% of Waldo County residents spent more than half their income on housing from 2015 to 2019.

Another issue of concern was the percentage of older adults living alone. In Waldo County this figure is 23.3% of adults 65 years and older, which is lower than the state average of 29%.

Access to care was also listed as a top priority, according to the report.

During the period of 2015-2017, 12.3% of adults in Waldo County reported experiencing a time during the prior 12 months when they needed to see a doctor, but could not because of cost. The rate of uninsured individuals in Waldo County was 11.1% during the same period, significantly more than the 7.9% rate statewide.

Lack of providers and the rural nature of the county creating long travel distances were also listed by participants as an issue, according to the report.

The fourth top priority was listed as substance and alcohol use.

The rate of overdose deaths in 2020 was 22.5 per 100,000 population, although this figure is significantly lower than the statewide average of 37.3.

The drug-affected infants rate was 107.1 per 1,000 births, significantly higher than the statewide average of 73.7.

Alcohol-induced deaths per 100,000 were 10.2 in 2015-2019.

The Maine Shared CHNA is a unique public-private statewide collaborative effort among Central Maine Healthcare, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an office of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, MaineGeneral Health, MaineHealth, and Northern Light Health.

The health reports will be used by:

  • Maine’s nonprofit hospitals to create community health improvement plans.
  • Maine’s District Coordinating Councils to create District Health Improvement Plans within the next two years.
  • The Maine CDC to create a State Health Improvement Plan within the next two years.
  • Policy makers, non-profits, businesses, academics, and other community partners for their strategic planning purposes and grant writing.

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