County addresses challenges, data in health report; Mower has above state average rates for teen births, STIs

Published 9:17 am Saturday, June 16, 2018

A more comprehensive county public health report was released by the Mower County Health and Human Services.

Despite the county releasing a report annually, the 2017 report was the first time that officials included data alongside their reports in order to paint a broader picture of what Mower County’s community health efforts looked like.

Pam Kellogg, community health supervisor for Mower County Health and Human Services, shared that while the report indicates several highlights from their efforts during the last year, she felt that there was room for improvement in making sure county residents continue to be aware of the services, clinics and resources that are available to them throughout the year.

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“We’re busy,” she said. “We have a lot of programs we’re involved with and we’re a small department of 21 and many of us have to wear many hats. They’re not in just one program, but multiple different ones. We’re very lucky that we have a county board that supports us and are willing to provide us with the things we need.”

Kellogg and Health and Human Services plan to attend the next county board meeting and present to the commissioners about their efforts as well as addressing solutions to several ongoing issues in the county, including high teen birth rates and STI rates.

“It’s just another challenge we’re willing to think through,” Kellogg said. “We’re willing to partner with anyone that has any suggestions.”

Below are several highlights from the public health report:

•WIC program success, Healthy Families America

Kellogg shared that Health and Human Services had many successes during 2017, including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which is a program on nutrition and breastfeeding program that helps eligible pregnant women, new mothers, babies and young children eat well, learn about nutrition and health. Last year Minnesota served 180,187 participants. Mower County served 1,963 people.

There was also an indication of success for the Healthy Families America (HFA) program in Mower County. Launched in 1992, HFA is a nationally recognized, evidence-based home visiting model that’s designed to work with families who are at-risk for adverse childhood experiences, including child maltreatment. Mower County had seen an increase in the number of referrals in 2017, according to the report.

There were a total of 705 home visits, with 429 referrals received by Health and Human Services received.

“From statistics, a lot of them were teen parents with kind of a history of a poor childhood themselves,” Kellogg said. “The goal is to break that cycle. We did 704 home visits and it kept us very, very busy and it’s showing us that it’s really working well.”

•Challenges with interacting with diverse populations

Several challenges that the community health segment of health and human services encountered is making contact with the growing diverse population within Mower County, Kellogg shared. Noting that in different cultures and home countries, approaches to health care and resources varied and contrasted significantly with the resources provided in the United States.

Health and Human Services recently hired two interns who were bilingual in Karen, and hoped to enter communities in Austin and learn more about unique health needs, according to Kellogg. She acknowledged  that Mower County also aimed to continue working with the growing diverse populations that are in the area, mentioning the challenges of making contact with residents who may not speak English as a first language, or have different life experiences.

“We’re hoping to get into (different communities) and help them learn more about our services,” Kellogg said. “We’re becoming more and more diverse. Some have a lack of health care in their home country in comparison to what we have here. …we don’t know their life and what it’s like living in a refugee camp, and sometimes words we have don’t translate into their language. A lot of other countries don’t use health care preventatively, and we’re trying to teach them to see doctors on a routine basis and not waiting for something to be wrong before going to the doctor.”

•Teen births, STI rates

For Mower County, the teen birth rates and STI rates were higher than state average. From 2014 to 2016—the most current statistics available—showed that Mower County had 27 teen births per 1,000 people, which was higher than the state average rate of 14 teen births per 1,000. Mower County also ranked third in the state for the highest rate of gonorrhea, following behind Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and the county saw 300 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people.

From 2005 to 2015, STI rates for chlamydia increased by 61 percent and 2014-15, saw an increase of 7 percent. Gonorrhea rates increased by 8 percent from 2005 to 2015, which were the most recent numbers publicly available. Primary and secondary syphilis rates increased 246 percent from 2005 to 2015.

Back in 2007, the county had seen about 181 patients at their clinics. However, in 2017, Mower County only saw 37 patients coming in for birth control, citing this to be a “drastic drop.” The increased rates have been frustrating for community health employees, Kellogg said. Despite providing free clinics and access to contraceptives, there was still a decline in the number of patients that were seen at the clinic over the last several years. Last year community health staff distributed about 5,200 free condoms, which then jumped up to 6,400 free condoms.

“If I knew the answer, I don’t know if it is a lack of education, I don’t know how to answer that,” she said. “What’s frustrating is that we have a high teen pregnancy and birth rate, yet we have services that are free where we’re seeing numbers are going lower and lower. We’re not sure what’s going on. We have the need and the resources, but they’re not utilizing the service. Our clinic numbers are down, and teen rates are higher than state average, and STDs are higher than state average, yet the services aren’t being utilized.”

Community health also held an STI testing day at Riverland Community College. 17 people took tests, and one positive test came from it. The department also hoped to host more educational events and teach people about birth control options and outreach, such as entering the county jail to discuss contraceptives, STIs and healthy relationships.

• Blood Lead Management

The health report also looked into blood lead management. Kellogg said that lead was typically found in paint and usually found in homes that were built before 1978. These blood lead tests were conducted in early childhood because lead can act as a large threat to child development, and even low amounts of lead in blood can lower a child’s IQ and their focus. Effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.

The report showed that there were 190 lead tests completed, and 24 of those tests showed elevated blood lead levels. Three of those tests were high enough where the Minnesota Department of Health had to conduct home investigations to determine the lead sourcing, according to Kellogg.

“I know in Mower County it is pretty high,” she said. “We have older homes, and typically a lot of families are living in lower-income rental homes and they tend to be older with peeling paint. One thing is that paint that has lead ends up tasting sweet in water. This could eventually impact learning, having difficulty in school, and nutrition becomes poor and anemic. It’s very important to get those blood levels lower.”