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Health, Science & Tech

What Are Your Community Health Issues? Allegheny County Wants to Know

“I think we are not as unhealthy as we could be, but I think there’s lots of room for improvement,” says Dr. Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department Director. 

On Monday the department begins a series of 13 public meetings over the next seven weeks to discuss health concerns throughout the county.

“The issues around air quality, we’ve been getting better, but we know we still have a lot of work to do," Hacker said. "I think the issues around smoking and obesity, honestly, we could do a lot better, and the smoking in particular as a newcomer to the area I was quite surprised by how much smoking was still going on.”

Hacker, who began as health director last September, says one of the most important duties for the department is to understand the health of the community by looking at existing data but also by engaging residents to learn what’s important to them.  

“As a health department we’re responsible for the health of 1.2 million people, but there are areas of our county that have health inequalities, and that means their outcomes are not where we would like to be seeing them,” she said.

Hacker said they’ve been collecting data from existing sources “to paint a picture of the county”, but the purpose of the public meetings is to see if those big health issues resonate with residents as well as specific issues that are of a higher priority within particular communities.

“We know that things like violence for example, air quality, obesity, smoking are really major health issues, individual communities may have different perspectives on that," she said. "Let’s say they have a larger elderly population; maybe there’s more concern about lighting and sidewalk safety than some of these other things.”

The 13 meetings, one in each county council district, are not intended to be discussions about how “to attack these issues at this point in time” but rather to get them “on the table” and prioritize them.

“Where we will be able to identify our top three to five indicators that we want to plan for; it doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore other things but at least give us a real clarity about direction,” Hacker said