More than half the people participating in the 2022 Community Health Assessment rated mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, stress and suicide, as the most important health issue facing the region.
Second on the list was COVID-19 followed by alcohol, drug and opiate abuse.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how destructive it is when our community’s health is at risk. This Community Health Assessment comes at an opportune time to allow us to reassess the also broader health needs in our community and identify the assets we can leverage to address those needs,” said Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District.
For the first time, the RAHD and Mary Washington Healthcare partnered to complete the assessment, known as a CHA. In addition to compiling results from 1,978 survey responses—most of them were done online—the sponsors also got feedback from more than 70 community organizations and collected various data about health in the community.
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Almost 99 percent of the responses came from the local health district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. The remainder were from areas served by Mary Washington, including Westmoreland County, eastern Orange County and southern Prince William County.
Participants also were asked to name the top three ways to improve the quality of life in the area and more mental health services ranked No. 2, after more affordable housing and before good jobs and a healthy economy.
The CHA points out the shortage of mental health providers. Throughout Virginia, there’s a ratio of 1 mental health provider—such as psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor or therapist—to every 530 people, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Fredericksburg, which tends to be the hub of medical practices, has the best ratio of mental health providers in the RAHD, 1 to 140 people. But the rate falls precipitously outside city boundaries. It ranges from 1 to 1,140 people in Spotsylvania to 1 to 3,070 people in Caroline.
The survey also asked participants to name the area’s greatest strengths. A safe place to live got the most responses followed by diversity of the community—social, cultural, faith and economic—followed by police, fire and rescue services.
Another question asked people for their top three risky behaviors, and the survey said: drug abuse, alcohol abuse and not getting vaccines.
CHA researchers went beyond the results to analyze the data by demographics and localities. They noticed several trends based on age and addresses.
For instance, people age 18–29 with an annual household income of less than $49,000 choose community diversity as their No. 1 answer instead of a safe place to live, which was the top choice for the majority.
Fredericksburg residents, who also cited diversity as their top choice, also were the only residents to mention a “walkable, bikeable community” as a strength, according to the CHA.
Spotsylvania respondents chose educational opportunities as their No. 1 and Stafford residents picked it as their second.
As for the influence of age, that was obvious in the question about the most important health issue facing the region. People over age 60 and African-Americans chose COVID-19 as their top choice.
“This was not surprising as we know that the elderly have been severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and we know that African-Americans across the country have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections,” according to the report.
Those over 60 also went against the majority as they overwhelmingly chose not getting immunized as their top risky behavior. King George was the only locality in which getting vaccinated did not show up in the top 5 of risky behaviors.
The responses also varied by income level. Those whose household annual income was less than $100,000 said affordable housing was the best way to improve quality of life. People with a household income above $100,000 a year chose mental health and substance abuse services as their top choice for improving life.
Caroline residents tended to choose good jobs and a healthy economy as ways to improve their quality of life while Fredericksburg residents were the only ones to rank ending homelessness in the top 5.
The CHA also includes a number of other educational, social and economic indicators, from home ownership, the cost of living and the eviction rate per locality to the number of schools, student-to-teacher ratios and percentage of the population, age 25 and over, without a high school diploma.
Residents of the local health district are encouraged to read the report, available at vdh.virginia.gov/rappahannock, and make comments through April 3. After that, the project moves on to its second phase, the Community Health Improvement Plan, or CHIP , which includes developing a plan to address the top health issues. The first CHIP meeting will be held from noon to 2 pm on Tuesday, April 5, at a date to be announced later on the RAHD website.
All CHIP meetings are open to the public.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425