At the Leglislature: A checkup on MAine’s health

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by Sen. Jim Dill

Every three years, the Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) – a coalition of public and private healthcare stakeholders – issues a county-by-county report to bring Mainers up to speed on how our collective health is faring. This report is valuable because it provides a snapshot of our current status, data that informs the debate on how legislators can improve the quality of life for the folks we represent.

Earlier this year, the group released the first phase of this report, called Health Data Profiles. These profiles shine a light on successes and opportunities for Penobscot County and Maine in general. We look to the Health Data Profiles as part of a roadmap to see where our focus belongs going forward, and the good news is we are trending in the right direction. Penobscot County has seen fewer people living in poverty than in the previous report, including children. Our graduation rate is up, our income has increased, and the number of seniors living alone is down significantly.

Many of these social factors that affect our health such as poverty, education outcomes and household income have been recently addressed in Augusta. I take pride in having worked hard with Democrats and Republicans alike to stimulate the economy, lower taxes, and fund education, knowing that these measures ultimately affect people’s long-term health.

However, the report also highlights some concerning health indicators. Unfortunately, our citizens are reporting lower standards of physical and mental health, and the percentage of people suffering from chronic conditions is on the rise. With regard to mental health, we are seeing increased rates of depression among middle- and high school students, which troubles me deeply.

Additionally, overdose deaths are increasing, as we are all aware. I have been vocal about this issue because we are all susceptible to this problem. It can spiral out of control quickly, leaving families devastated in its wake.

It is important to note that these tend to reflect statewide trends and are not limited to our county. And the reasons for some of these trends are hard to pin down. For instance, some of the initiatives we have introduced require some time to take effect, such as the bold legislation to address opiate addiction we passed in the 127th Legislature. And Maine needs to do more to increase access to health care, including the necessary step, already approved by the voters, of expanding Medicaid.

CHNA is conducting forums around the state based on the Health Data Profiles, where folks can give feedback on the data and state their community’s health-related priorities. If you are interested, keep an eye out for one in your area by visiting maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/phdata/MaineCHNA or by calling my office at 287-1532. The group’s final report, encompassing its data and the feedback provided at these meetings, will be issued in March 2019.

I look forward to reading the final report. I also look forward to collaborating with my fellow lawmakers, health care experts and other stakeholders, with this report in hand, to find out how we can reverse some troubling trends. Nothing less than the health and happiness of Mainers is at stake.

As always, you can email me at Jamesdill207@gmail.com or call either my office at (207) 287-1515 or my personal phone at (207) 827-3498. My line is always open.

 

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