Healing Polk’s communities

New Research Points to Health Disparities Among Certain Residents

How a county thrives is based on how well the citizens within the county are thriving, and Polk County has taken a big step in improving its communities’ health by determining the health needs of its citizens.

Thanks to a committee of devoted health experts, the Community Partners Health Care Committee, health issues among certain groups in Lakeland are being made aware of to lead the way for more equipped programs to be introduced. “Our goal is to narrow the gap in the disparities in health care that exist among minorities and indigents in Lakeland through grassroots efforts. We want to make a difference in their lives,” says Grace Hardy, the committee’s chairperson and Director of Marketing for Valencia Hills Health and Rehab.

Main Points of Disparity

The research conducted by the committee members over the past year show that health disparities center on transportation, insurance issues, employment, and general responsibility towards health. “If you want to improve the health of the community, you need to first understand as many facts about the community to take the right action,” states Dr. Daniel Haight, Associate Vice President of Community Health at Lakeland Regional Medical Center (LRMC) and a Polk County Medical Association member. “The committee took four assessments of the county and learned we have more control of improving the county’s health than originally thought.”

Committee members were separated into studying topics related to their medical expertise and provided presentations of their health findings for Polk County. The biggest issue was lack of understanding about medical conditions, whether from lack of resources or people not taking responsibility to get preventative care and information.

“Knowledge is the first goal to changing anything. You don’t want to just tell people what to do; you want to empower them so that they can help themselves and be healthy,” says Jessica Campbell, a committee member and nurse supervisor for the Stroke Floor at LRMC. Campbell’s research presentation was Nutrition and Childhood Obesity & Stroke, determining that obesity caused by poor nutrition led to strokes being the fifth leading cause of death in Polk County. Lakeland and Winter Haven are also number four in the country for obesity, Campbell notes.

Janet Sprehe, Nurse Practitioner at James Haley Veteran Nursing Academy, found that poor nutrition and lack of responsibility for health to be the same for her research presentation in Diabetic Foot/Amputation. As with other members’ research, another factor that stood out in her presentation was lack of transportation in Polk’s rural areas to get to appointments. “There is a lack of availability for transportation or even bus service to get to the doctor. Some patients may drive 30-40 miles to the doctor,” she observes.

These factors become bigger issues when coupled with lack of insurance and/or unemployment that befall many minority groups in Polk County, as well as those on fixed incomes. “Polk County has an enormous employment process and if you receive unemployment, it may interfere with you receiving Medicare or Medicaid,” mentions Patty Strickland, committee member and Marketing Executive for Clark & Daughtrey. Her presentation focused on Open Access to Medical Care.

Hope for Health

Determining the factors leading to an unhealthy Polk County allowed the committee to realize educating minority and fixed income groups was how change could occur. “We want to focus on getting into areas that do not know of these programs, through their churches, community organizations, health fairs, and faith congregations to educate people on health and resources,” says Pam Herbert, a cancer nurse for Clark & Daughtrey and committee member who researched Breast Cancer in the county.

The diverse committee also allowed members of the same race and/or culture to relate more easily to different minority groups, thus leading the way to awareness of medical conditions and available health services, and more responsibility to care for health.



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