Food insecurity, mental health issues, chronic illnesses top health concerns in Hillsborough, Tampa

Mental health and substance abuse; exercising, nutrition and weight; and access to health care are the top concerns of Hillsborough residents and more than 150 health care providers, according to the 2019 Community Health Assessment released by the Florida Department of Health for Hillsborough County.

The assessment -- completed before the arrival of COVID-19 -- also found health inequities for poor people and people of color that "are systemic, avoidable, and unjust.''
Hillsborough and coalition partners in Pasco, Polk, and Pinellas are collecting additional information to determine "if anything new has emerged or changed since the COVID-19 pandemic,'' according to an email from Allison Nguyen, program manager for the Department of Health-Hillsborough Office of Health Equity. "We are still reviewing these results.''

An initial community health assessment five years ago mirrors the findings of the recent assessment, which highlights the same health issues as both persistent and urgent, Nguyen wrote.

"Our community feedback was that if you addressed one issue, it would fix the others. That is similarly the case now, that all of the issues have some overlap. So, addressing one could help the others as well.''

In 2019 more than 5,000 residents completed a survey of more than 80 questions on health and quality of life. More than 150 health service providers including hospitals, nonprofits, and government agencies participated.
Health care providers included Advent Health (formerly Florida Hospital); Moffitt Cancer Center; BayCare (formerly Florida Baptist Hospital); Tampa Family Health Centers; Tampa General Hospital; and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Data from interviews, focus groups, and the U.S. Census also were collected.

Among the data included in the report were:
  • 16 percent of residents and 21 percent of children live below the poverty line;
  • 14 percent of adults have no health insurance;
  • 63 percent of adults are overweight or obese which contributes to the leading causes of death, including cancer and heart disease;
  • 13 suicides per 100,000 people;
  • 3 times higher rate of black infant mortality compared to white infant mortality.
Responses from residents who completed the survey found that two out of five had unmet health needs. One in four ran out of food at least once during the previous 12 months.

The assessment will be a guide as the county’s health department and area health care providers develop improvement plans over the next five years.

Food insecurity is a chronic issue.

One solution, according to Nguyen, is providing a food insecurity screening tool at clinics to identify which patients or clients need a referral to a food bank or other resources including food stamps.

"Similarly, we are working with partners in Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco, and Pinellas to expand access to Mental Health First Aid training to community partners, so that the broader public health system (beyond healthcare providers and the health department) can start to recognize individuals with mental health needs and help refer them to services,” Nguyen wrote.

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Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.