After a year and a half of forums, surveys and focus groups, organizers of the Charlestown Community Health Assessment revealed study results on Thursday, May 2 and asked local residents to help turn that data into meaningful steps forward in improving the health of all Charlestown residents.
Led by Massachusetts General Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, the assessment aimed to provide an “honest and objective description of [the] community’s health status, assets and unmet needs” and involved the collaboration of people in a variety of areas, from healthcare to education, social services, government and criminal justice.
The project also comes with considerable funding over the next five years, to help further the goals created during the assessment.
The MGH Center for Community Health Improvement has promised $108,000 annually for five years, while Spaulding as part of its development agreement for the new facility in the Charlestown Navy Yard has promised $100,000 annually for five years to support the work of a to-be-created community health leadership council.
“This is an opportunity that is unique to this geography. We have in our hands an opportunity with some funding to really grab a hold of the health and the needs in the community,” Charlestown Neighborhood Council chairman Tom Cunha said at the May 2 presentation, held at the Knights of Columbus hall. “We just may be small enough that we can do it inside our geography. I think this could be a real turning point …”
Presenting Thursday night were Leslie Aldrich, associate director for the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement, and Beth Rosenshein, a Charlestown resident, member of the MGH CCHI and director of the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition.
By the numbers
About 75 percent of community members polled through a Quality of Life survey, focus groups and other studies identified “drug abuse, addiction, overdose and alcohol” as the top health concern in Charlestown, followed by “crime, violence and public safety” (35 percent).
“What we heard a lot of in the neighborhood was that substance abuse and safety went hand in hand,” Aldrich said.
The third concern was cancer (16 percent), followed by “poor diet, inactivity, obesity, hunger and malnutrition” (15 percent) and education (13 percent).
Also identified among the top 10 health issues in Charlestown: Smoking (12 percent), environment (11 percent), housing (10 percent), mental health (9 percent) and asthma (7 percent).
With a population of 16,439, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Charlestown has both the highest median income in Boston ($76,898) and one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the city, with 37 percent of Charlestown’s children living below the poverty level compared to a citywide rate of 28 percent.
On the subject of drug and alcohol abuse, 4.4 out of 5 people surveyed felt it was a problem in Charlestown. Heroin is currently the top reason for substance abuse treatment admissions in Charlestown, Aldrich noted.
Regarding crime and public safety, 3.4 out of 5 people surveyed strongly agreed that Charlestown is a safe place to live. While the neighborhood has seen a 7.5 percent reduction in aggravated assault arrests, it has also seen a 37.6 percent increase in drug-related arrests in the past five years, according to the study.
In a survey of middle school students living in Charlestown and attending Warren-Prescott or Clarence R. Edwards schools, 23 percent reported having had to repeat a grade in their lifetime, and 83 percent planned to finish college.
In a study of cancers in Charlestown, Charlestown’s incidence rate for women for all types of cancers was about 6 percent higher than the state average, but about 25 percent lower for men. However, certain cancers (colorectal and lung) showed both a higher incident rate and a higher mortality rate when compared against the state average—suggesting earlier detection and treatment could benefit Charlestown residents, Aldrich said.
Priorities and next steps
Out of those top 10 issues, the assessment committee came up with four priorities:
• Access to care (in particular, the identification and treatment of autism)—Develop a comprehensive system of health care services for all Charlestown residents, especially individuals with mental, physical and learning disabilities and their families who do not have equal access to care.
• Cancer prevention and healthy living—Reduce cancer morbidity and mortality rates through an increase in healthy living, including prevention, screening and access to treatment.
• Education—Provide equal access to formal and informal educational opportunities for all Charlestown residents.
• Substance abuse, mental health and public safety—Prevent and reduce substance abuse and its effects across generations in Charlestown and address connected issues from mental health to public safety.
Following the presentation, the approximately 70 people in attendance broke out into small groups to discuss each of the four areas and brainstorm some initial short- and long-term goals. Some ideas included improving parent engagement in education and creating a mentoring program for parents; partnering with the YMCA and Whole Foods to promote healthy living, physical activity and nutrition; and developing more programs for youth, in particular older teens, to keep them active and engaged and out of trouble.
Rosenshein announced plans to establish a new 17-person leadership council to further develop these and other ideas. The group will include an executive council made up of four officers and a representative each from MGH and Spaulding, as well as an executive director and 10 representatives from each of the 10 priority areas.
Nomination papers for committee positions will be made available throughout the summer into October, and subcommittees concerned with each of the priority areas will continue to meet during those months. In October, the assessment committee will appoint members of the leadership council from those nominations, and a community meeting introducing that council and reviewing the action plans developed by priority subcommittees will be held in November, Rosenshein said.
In addition, the assessment committee is working to develop a resource network for Charlestown residents. The Family Support Circle will “bring together community providers to enhance assessment, case management and coordination of care among providers, streamlining the social service delivery system for Charlestown youth and their families and enhancing the way in which Charlestown providers work together," Rosenshein said.
More information about the leadership council, the assessment process and the next steps can be found online at massgeneral.org/CCHI or at CSAC02129.org. Questions can also be directed to Beth Rosenshein at email@example.com or at 617-726-6684.