Rockingham County, North Carolina Establishes Task Force to Identify the Root Causes of Its Poor Health Rankings, Develops Recommendations

July 11, 2011

Rockingham County, dubbed as North Carolina’s North Star, is nestled at the tip of the Northern Piedmont Triad region and cradled by the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Though Rockingham County is mostly rural (county size – 572 square miles with a population of approximately 93,063), its communities still offer small-town living balanced with 21st century amenities.

The 2010 County Health Rankings revealed that Rockingham County ranked in the lower half of the state except for the area of physical environment where it ranked 48th out of 100 counties.  Rockingham County ranked 71st out of 100 North Carolina counties in health outcomes and 85th out of 100 counties in the area of health factors.

In response to the 2010 County Health Rankings, the Rockingham County Department of Public Health in North Carolina immediately began to identify ways that the community could mobilize to address the issues facing their citizens. On April 26, 2010, the Rockingham County Board of County Commissioners officially appointed members to the Rockingham County Community Health Task Force, including community leaders from education, business, health, human services, as well as elected city and county officials.

The charge to the Health Task Force was to examine the 2010 County Health Rankings, identify the root causes of the poor health rankings, and develop recommendations for community action directed at improving health outcomes and health factors affecting Rockingham County residents.

The Task Force identified several common themes for action: health behaviors, education, jobs, and access to health care. The Task Force then developed recommendations related to these themes to improve the health of Rockingham County and presented a summary report to the Board of County Commissioners. In their report they state that, “the health status of Rockingham County residents is directly impacted by individual behavior, education and economic status, the physical and social environment, and access to quality healthcare. It is the position of the Rockingham County Community Health Task Force that positive improvements in these critical areas will result in the improved health status of county residents.”

Rockingham County is working hard to improve the health of county residents. A great deal of effort has taken place to respond to the themes and actions recommended. These efforts include but are not limited to the following activities:

  • Introduction of new health department website – Not only is the new website more user-friendly and aesthetically appealing, it provides a wealth of up-to-date health information and resources.  Through the aid of social media, health and wellness information is right at the resident’s fingertips.
  • Creation of the Rockingham County Healthcare Alliance: Funding pursuit for a new Federally Qualified Health Center.
  • Recipient of the Project Connect -- Communities Supporting Young Families Grant: Increase access to health care for uninsured pregnant or parenting females between the ages of 13-24.
  • Recipient of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Community Grant: Eliminate breast cancer and medical isolation encountered by women who live in rural counties. Increase breast cancer awareness and education for African American women and increase visibility of free services for women who are medically-underserved.
  • Rockingham County Healthy Carolinians Partnership: Working with the Cooperative Extension, WIC/Nutrition Program and the Local Food Coalition by providing a farmer’s market located at the health department during the days WIC vouchers are distributed (providing access to local fresh fruits and vegetables for WIC clients); collaborating with the Rockingham County School System to reduce childhood obesity through the In-School Prevention of Obesity & Disease program; working with the Rockingham County Public Libraries by providing county-wide presentations to promote and raise the awareness of healthy lifestyles and behaviors; and offering Zumba fitness sessions to county employees and family members to increase structured weekly physical activity.
  • Recently conducted competitiveness survey: Provided through collaboration between Rockingham County Partnership for Economic & Tourism Development and UNC-Kenan-Flagler Business School to evaluate Rockingham County’s ability to compete in the new economy by assessing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats inherent in its existing stock of polity, financial, physical, human, cultural, and social capital.
  • Community Health Assessment: Rockingham County Department of Public Health is preparing to conduct a Community Health Assessment which will provide a wealth of county health, education, employment and overall needs/resource information.

According to Glenn L. Martin, Rockingham County Health Director, "The County Health Rankings allowed Rockingham County leaders the ability to clearly see and understand the connection between the population’s level of education, economic status and their health status.  We learned that while the challenges facing our county were inter-related, so were the solutions."