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County leaders move toward three-year health improvement plan

FLOWER MOUND — Denton County leaders are taking major steps toward developing a three-year community health improvement plan for county residents starting in 2018.

Representatives from Denton County Public Health, Texas Health Resources, United Way of Denton County and other agencies got together for the first Community Health Summit on Wednesday at the Denton County Southwest Courthouse in Flower Mound. 

They set broad goals around health concerns raised in the 2017 Community Health Assessment, which was released last week. 

The 63-page document outlines, among other issues, the number of residents suffering from a mental illness who aren't receiving treatment, the number of uninsured adults and the percentage of  county residents who are physically inactive.  It also includes the growing rate of sexually transmitted diseases and new HIV diagnoses. 

"Once there are community-recognized goals with access to care, behavioral health and chronic and communicable diseases, then we can start to focus our efforts with new employees and whether we have budget resources that we can allocate to the issue," Denton County Public Health director Matt Richardson said. 

The specific data from the assessment translates to five "areas of concern": access to care, behavioral health, diet and exercise, education and chronic diseases.

In the access-to-care category, there were 90,000 uninsured adults younger than 65 in Denton County in 2014, while about 18,700 children in the county were uninsured that year. The exercise category showed 20.2 percent of county residents are physically inactive.  

In behavioral health, statewide data indicates that about 78,500 Denton County residents with a mental illness didn't receive treatment in 2013. 

Educating residents about behavioral health stigmas in schools was one of the suggested goals at the meeting. Participants also suggested promoting literacy in the health care system for non-English speakers. 

The assessment includes aggregated data from other local and statewide studies, such as United Way of Denton County's Community Needs Assessment, the homeless Point-in-Time count and the Texas HIV Surveillance report from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.  

The document gets specific. For example,  it shows that gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis rates have been increasing in Denton County since 2013. In 2015, 2,204 people were diagnosed with chlamydia, while 541 were diagnosed with gonorrhea, the data shows. That year, 98 people were diagnosed with syphilis.

The report also shows the prominence of chronic diseases across ethnic groups. It says that black county residents were living with HIV at a 33 percent higher rate than Hispanic residents in 2015. 

Roughly 460 African-Americans per 100,000 Denton County residents were living with HIV in 2015, according to the report. Hispanics were the second-most prevalent group in that category, with roughly 160 living with the disease for every 100,000 county residents.

Richardson said sexually transmitted diseases fell under the chronic diseases category.  Health officials, he said, are trying to discuss the data in these five categories to make it easier to find solutions in the health improvement plan. 

"Then we can write grants or we can petition the state or the federal agencies to fund some new initiatives," Richardson said.  

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.

FEATURED PHOTO: Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson discusses health trends Wednesday at the 2017 Community Health Summit at the Denton County Southwest Courthouse in Flower Mound.