A community needs assessment implies providing a snapshot of local systems, challenges, and resources to identify the areas for improvement and strategize an action plan (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2017). This paper aims to focus on Whitfield County, North Georgia, to explore its problems and clarify potential changes that are important for its sustainable development. According to the data from the US Census Bureau, the population of Whitfield County accounts for 103,456 persons with a median age of 35.2, which is 15% of the North Georgia community (North Georgia community action, 2018). Of them, 91,384 persons are White, 4,119 – African-Americans, and 1,429 – Asians (Hamilton Health Care System, 2019). Goods-producing, service-providing, and private sector businesses are the key industries. The main challenges are a low income, a lack of education, and health access issues, which are recommended to be addressed by promoting a culture of health and education.
A low income is the first challenge that is faced by Whitfield County. While the overall poverty rate in this county is 18.81%, child poverty is 27.2%, which means that they lack basic needs, such as shelter, food, and clothing. Native Americans and African-Americans experience the highest rates of poverty, while the median income of the population is $40,596; however, compared to 2013, the level of unemployment reduced from 11% to 5.28% in 2017 (North Georgia community action, 2018). It means that despite reducing unemployment, many people still struggle to survive, which points to low remuneration rates. The factor that complicates the issue with income is that about 25% of residents have to spend 30% of their income to pay for their mortgage loans. In addition, many houses in the county are considered to have certain conditions, such as problems with plumbing and kitchen facilities and high monthly rent costs.
A low level of education is the second problem that should be taken into account since almost one out of third citizens of Whitfield County lack literacy. 21% have some college degree, 32% have no high school diploma, and the overall graduation degree is only 5.5% compared to 11.3% in the US (North Georgia community action, 2018). A lack of education deprives people of good employment opportunities, forcing them to choose low-paid jobs and suffering from the inability to ensure at least a middle quality of life. Accordingly, one should note that there is a direct correlation between poverty and poor education in the county, where the latter is the reason for the former. Among the contributing factors, the residents mention high costs of education and a lack of childcare opportunities for the periods of studying.
Access to health care services is another critical problem that is a barrier to timely treatment and preventative measures. 22.3% of Whitfield County’s residents are uninsured, and the number of primary care physicians is insufficient (Hamilton Health Care System, 2019). Excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and obesity can be noted as aggravating factors that make health problems more pronounced (Malcarney et al., 2017). Heart diseases, cancer, unintentional injuries, and respiratory illnesses compose a set of leading death causes (Hamilton Health Care System, 2019). Fite (2020) reports that Whitfield County became a hot spot during the COVID-19 outbreak, which is largely caused by the vulnerable status of those living in densely populated areas, a lack of insurance, and poor public transportation. The fact that many people were resistant to perceive the pandemic seriously is another factor that could be prevented by means of population education.
Local Assets, Resource Gaps, and Stakeholders
The strengths of Whitfield County are associated with its resources and stakeholders, such as Dalton Utilities, Georgia Power, GIS Information, Boys and Girls Club, and so on. The detailed information about the mentioned assets and contact information can be received via the county’s official website. The educational resources include Dalton Public Schools, Whitfield County Schools, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Dalton State College. These educational institutions provide a variety of programs to teach students. In addition, there are several churches, including Bethlehem Church, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Central Church of Christ, Crown View Baptist Church, and others. They provide spiritual support to people, encouraging them to refer to God and seek His support in their daily lives.
Hamilton Health Care System is the key local stakeholder that is responsible for addressing the population’s health challenges. For example, it is engaged in offering education on nutrition and healthy lifestyles to prevent chronic diseases, while its agenda of recruiting more primary care physicians is one more strength. The Deo Clinic, the Health Department, and the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership try to improve access to care services by providing free and reduced-cost care delivery to vulnerable populations. In turn, Hamilton Health Care System ensures financial aid to these organizations (Hamilton Health Care System, 2019). Despite the efforts of the identified assets, the county still lacks proper access to care and struggles to overcome poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy, which are the main resource gaps. To fulfill these gaps, there is a need to build inter-organizational cooperation by involving social work services, churches, businesses, and all community organizations.
An action plan for Whitfield County should be based on a culture of health and education to foster the commitment of citizens to improving their lives. On the one hand, the county, its state, and the country, in general, should support these two improvement initiatives. On the other hand, the residents need to recognize that they should also be proactive in making their lives better (Herrman, 2019; Fadlallah et al., 2018). The first step is to conduct a SWOT analysis, and windshield survey, and interview the residents to better determine their needs while synthesizing the results with the findings of this needs assessment paper (Courie & Tate, 2020). The second step is to discuss possible initiatives across the stakeholders involved, paying attention to what they can offer and how they can work in collaboration. The third step is related to designing a project for improvements, including vision, goals, objectives, actions, and expected outcomes. In this case, greater insurance coverage, reducing poverty, and attracting residents to engage in education would be the primary goals. The desired outcomes are to be measured once in six months to make sure that necessary project adjustments would be taken timely.
To conclude, this paper conducted the needs assessment for Whitfield County, and it was revealed that the county’s main challenges are low education, a lack of literacy, unemployment, poverty, and insurance/health issues. Based on the analysis of relevant sources, the key local assets and resources were clarified, where Hamilton Health Care System, as well as educational, religious, and city facilities are present. Nevertheless, there is a need to implement an action plan to address the identified challenges and enrich the limited resources by creating a culture of education and health.
Courie, A. F., & Tate, J. (2020). The usability of the plan quality index to support evaluation of community health action plans. Military Medicine, 185(11-12), 1908-1912. Web.
Fadlallah, R., El-Jardali, F., Hemadi, N., Morsi, R. Z., Abou Abou Samra, C., Ahmad, A., & Akl, E. A. (2018). Barriers and facilitators to implementation, uptake and sustainability of community-based health insurance schemes in low-and middle-income countries: A systematic review. International Journal for Equity in Health, 17(1), 1-18. Web.
Fite, E. (2020). How Whitfield County became one of Georgia’s worst COVID-19 hot spots. Chattanooga Times Free Press. Web.
Hamilton Health Care System: Community health needs assessment. (2019). Web.
Herrman, H. (2019). Implementing the WPA Action Plan 2017‐2020: Community orientation for learning, research and practice. World Psychiatry, 18(1), 113-114. Web.
Kirst-Ashman, K. K., & Hull, G. H. (2017). Understanding generalist practice (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Malcarney, M. B., Pittman, P., Quigley, L., Horton, K., & Seiler, N. (2017). The changing roles of community health workers. Health Services Research, 52, 360-382. Web.
North Georgia community action: Community needs assessment. (2018). Web.