Alexandria has begun conducting a community health assessment that will assist public health officials to set goals and prioritize resources for years to come.
The city announced the health assessment in a ceremony at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce headquarters in December, and the staff and steering committee have already begun their work. The assessment will look at the overall health of the community and identify areas where resources are needed to make Alexandria a healthier place.
The assessment will be conducted by staff from the Alexandria Health Department and a Public Health Prevention specialist from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who will be in Alexandria for the next two years.
“This is a very competitive process,” said Dr. Charles Konigsberg, the director of the Alexandria Health Department. “We applied for the project about a year ago and were selected this year.”
Konigsberg was invited to CDC to interview public health prevention specialists and to find a match. “We evaluated the specialists, and they evaluated us,” he said. “We were interested in Robin Annison, and she was interested in our project and in coming to this area, so it worked out.”
Annison will review existing data from a variety of sources. “My goal is to identify target areas and to begin working on strategies within those target areas before I leave in two years,” she said.
COMMUNITY HEALTH ASSESSMENTS are important for a variety of reasons. “It is important to emphasize that this is a prevention tool and does not necessarily have anything to do with the health-care system, per se,” Konigsberg said. “I am very concerned about the number of uninsured persons in Alexandria and their limited access to the health-care system, but the community health assessment will only address that issue in conjunction with looking at the prevalence of hypertension in the population, for example. I would want to conduct a community health assessment in any community where I was the public health director if one had not been conducted in some years. This does not mean that Alexandria is particularly unhealthy. In many respects, it is a very healthy community. It is just important for us to know the areas in which the health of the population is an issue and to develop strategies for dealing with those issues.”
CDC ASSISTS communities in conducting community health assessments as a component of Healthy People 2010, 2000 and 1990. “Those are national programs that have identified 250 different target areas,” Konigsberg said. “We want to be much more specific than that and will only look at 15 or 20 different areas and then select only three or four that we will really strategize about. We want to make certain that our goals are realistic and that we can identify resources that will affect those areas.”
The staff must use existing data because there are not sufficient resources to conduct original research. “There is some regional data, and some city agencies and commissions have conducted some research on other areas,” Konigsberg said. The Youth Policy Commission has looked at child health issues, and the Commission on Women has looked at the status of women’s health in Alexandria, as two examples.
The steering committee for the assessment is composed of 30 individuals, mostly elected officials and public health professionals. “We know that we need to broaden this group and are beginning to reach out to other people,” Annison said.
In general, though, the community will not be surveyed or contacted as part of the assessment. “We may hold some town hall meetings or focus groups to get wider input than just from this group of people who are really committed to this project,” Konigsberg said. “We are just getting started.”
The steering committee will hold regular meetings to discuss progress. These meetings are open to the public. For more information, contact Robin Annison at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 703-838-4400, Ext. 223. Information on the meetings will also be posted on the Health Department’s Web site at 222.ci.Alexandria.va.us/city/health.