Town Officials Gain Insight Into Health Needs

 WINTHROP – The town of Winthrop now has a snapshot of the health needs in the community thanks to the input of residents and a committee that worked with Massachusetts General Hospital to create a health needs assessment.

“This is the first comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment for the town of Winthrop,” said Town Manager James McKenna at last Wednesday night’s Town Council Meeting where committee members presented their findings.

The assessment resulted in three perceived health concerns, according to Leslie Aldrich, associate director at the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement – substance use disorders, environment and cancers. Elder health concerns, healthy eating/active living, education and access to health care were also concerns voiced in the survey. The assessment also noted that 25 percent of grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren in many instances because of drug and alcohol problems.

Council Vice President Nick Delvento said he was struck by the study. One of his concerns is that some adults in the community will not admit to any problems.

“Adults in the community can’t take that attitude,” he said.

“Denial is a coping mechanism,” said Pat Milano, director of CASA who also worked on the assessment.

Of the 770 people who took the survey, 74 percent have lived in Winthrop for more than 10 years. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents said substance disorders involving alcohol, drug use, addiction and overdose were a concern. On a scale of 1-5 Winthrop rated a 4.24. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, given to Winthrop students this year the rate of prescription drug use, not prescribed by a physician, was roughly 8 percent, higher than the state rate of 3 percent.

“Alcohol use (among teens) still continues to be higher than the state,” Aldrich said. She added that marijuana use has gone up since it was decriminalized. Others areas of concern teens report are sadness, anxiety, depression and suicide. “These are things that concern us, something that caught our attention.”

Winthrop Public Health Nurse Meredith Hurley reported on the environmental concerns noting that Logan Airport prompted 53 percent of the survey respondents to point to air quality problems. The instances of asthma and COPD have been on the rise.

“The chief takeaways are that we do see some respiratory effects associated with living in the areas of highest impact, but Logan itself represents a smaller contribution to the overall urban air population picture than expected,” stated Suzanne Condon, director of the health department’s Bureau of Environmental Health.

Hurley said the rate of tobacco smoking is 20 percent higher than the state. She voiced concerns over nicotine products and the advent of e-cigarettes, which have no age limit for purchasing.

“We can’t arrest ourselves out of a substance abuse problem,” said Police Chief Terence Delehanty, adding that there should be improvements in tracking people who have been in the East Boston drug court. He’d also like to see Winthrop have a street outreach worker and he supports the idea of a recovery coach who would help those trying to kick their habits.

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