The new ‘State of the County Health Report’ is in. Here’s why you should read it.


Chatham County’s high infant mortality rate, increases in poor mental health and deaths from drug overdoses are among the priority areas named in the newly published 2022 State of the County Health Report.

The report — just six pages long, but full of charts, data points and links to other documents — is part of the county Public Health Department’s stated commitment to a fair and inclusive Chatham County. It’s produced in the years the county doesn’t produce a Community Assessment (the 2021 version of which was published last year) and designed to provide up-to-date data on key health metrics, as well as updates on community health priorities set in the prior assessment. 

Referred to as “SOTCH” by the health department, the report—available at www.chathamcountync.gov/healthreports — features the latest data on topics including health insurance, poverty and food insecurity. They line up with three Community Health Impact Priorities chosen in the last Community Assessment (Access to Comprehensive Health Services; Healthy Eating, Active Living; and Economic Resilience) and the three priority topics (Mental Health and Substance Use; Transportation; and Employment/Income).

The report, the department says, also provides updates on work done by the CCPHD’s divisions and the Chatham Health Alliance and its subcommittees. Each SOTCH also focuses on an emerging issue, with this year’s report providing updates on work done by both the CCPHD and community members on harm reduction and substance use prevention.

“The SOTCH is not as in-depth nor as extensive as a Community Assessment, but it is still a key touchpoint for us as we work to improve health and well-being in Chatham County,” said Zachary Horner, communications specialist and public information officer for the CCPHD. “We hope community members, businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations and stakeholders can look to this report as a reminder of where, as a community, we’re succeeding and where we have opportunities to make improvements. For the Chathamite who wants a snapshot of where Chatham is right now, we encourage you to visit www.chathamcountync.gov/healthreports and check this one out.”

Julie Wilkerson, the executive director of the Chatham Health Alliance, said the report “highlights the work our agencies are doing to further the wellbeing of our community based on the priorities identified by the Chatham community.” 

“We hope that through this report we are staying transparent and accountable to the community and encouraging community members and agency partners to join us in addressing these health priorities,” Wilkerson added.

The News + Record spoke to Horner, who designed the report, to find out more.


Why put together a report like this?

Not only is this a requirement for local health departments, it is a way to track progress on priority health topics, highlight initiatives of the Public Health Department and Chatham Health Alliance, and recognize emerging issues important to the health of our community. State of the County Health reports are due to the state each year health departments do not produce Community Assessments, which we did last year. However, the Community Assessment we produced was marked as 2021, so we decided to make this year’s report anyway. We also do it because 1) we like to and 2) data is critical to public health. There are 10 Essential Public Health Standards as promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and three of them have to do with assessment, investigation and communication of health issues. The Community Assessment does that in full, while this provides a yearly update.


Tell us about what’s different in this year’s compared to past years.

There are certain things that have to be covered each year, like standard health outcomes data, updated data on previously determined priority areas, and updates on work done both by the Chatham County Public Health Department and our friends at the Chatham Health Alliance. The key difference this year — that it is focusing on new priorities from our recent Community Assessment. It also highlights the growing concern of substance use and overdoses. 


Is there a particular piece of data that stands out to you?

We were able to use updated data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Community Survey to provide information on a number of topics, including percent of residents living in poverty and percent that don’t have health insurance. While Chatham County fares better than North Carolina in both respects, it’s important to remember that these overall numbers don’t tell the whole story. That’s where the SOTCH should always be viewed in the context of the previous Community Assessment and breakdowns of this data by race/ethnicity, age, geography, etc. 

As far as a particular piece of data that stood out to me, infant mortality does. As the report states, and I’ll quote here: “Healthy moms and babies are a primary reproductive health goal and an area where the United States is not performing well. Chatham County’s infant health outcomes are relatively poor. The infant mortality rate in Chatham County from 2016-2020 was 9.4 per 1,000 live births, which was higher than North Carolina’s rate of 7 per 1,000 live births.”


The report mentions a new program with the health department, the Safe Kids Chatham Car Seat Program. Why is this something the health department is pursuing and doing?

Research shows that proper car seat use reduces the risk for injury in a crash by 71 to 82% in children compared to just using a seat belt. Our trained and certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians — we have five now, and they’re all amazing — provide car seat installation, education and inspection at no cost for anyone with small children, regardless of county of residence. As someone who has watched these folks work in educating my wife and me on car seat installation for our new baby, I can tell you firsthand that they are knowledgeable, compassionate and friendly. One key emphasis is installing it and using it correctly. It’s wild how many things on that car seat can be slightly misused and decrease safety. To learn more about this program, visit www.chathamcountync.gov/carseat.

I also want to give a shout out to our partner the Chatham Health Alliance and all the things they’ve been doing. See the full report to see everything, but I love the work they’ve been doing to get SNAP/EBT accepted at Chatham County farmers markets. It’s a key initiative to help make good, nutritious food available for more folks at affordable prices.


The emerging issue in the report for 2022 is harm reduction and substance use. Multiple county agencies are working on lowering the number of drug overdose deaths and substance use prevention. What is the public health angle to this issue?

Generally, public health is concerned with health and well-being of people. Addiction and drug abuse affects people’s health and well-being. That’s why it’s a public health issue. A public health approach, or angle as you put it, is called harm reduction. The goal of harm reduction is in its name, literally trying to reduce the harm that people who use drugs may suffer from drug use and misuse. 

We created a Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction Action Team within our department to bring folks from across the public health spectrum together to find solutions and take action to try to decrease these overdose deaths we continue to see, sadly, in Chatham County. We’ve produced a lot of new communications materials, both in print and online, and we’re upping our supply and availability of Naloxone, a medication that provides instant reversal to opioid overdoses. One of our social workers, Sam Owusu, has convened an advisory/outreach committee with community members who have lived experience with substance use. We are also in the final stages of hiring an opioid overdose prevention coordinator to oversee work we do on this issue and coordinate with other agencies, like Social Services and the Sheriff’s Office.


Anything else we should know?

You can find this SOTCH and past SOTCHs and Community Assessments online at www.chathamcountync.gov/publichealth. And if you have any questions about anything you see in the report, you can always reach out to me at zachary.horner@chathamcountync.gov.  

The Public Health Reports section of the CCPHD website has been updated to provide more space for Community Assessments, SOTCHs, and other reports, like the department’s new topical reports, two-page documents providing key data and available resources in a number of areas.

To learn more about the Chatham County Public Health Department, visitwww.chathamcountync.gov/publichealth or www.facebook.com/chathamhealth.