Lehigh Valley residents are living longer, in part because of the high quality of medical care, says the region’s Health Care Council.
But area residents need to do better at leading healthier and better-quality lives, the council says in its 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment for the Lehigh Valley.
“Work demands and technology make it harder to achieve balance in our lives,” said Tom Croyle, president of Lehigh Valley Business Coalition on Healthcare, a nonprofit organization in Bethlehem that represents businesses and strives to improve the delivery, cost and quality of health care.
As part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2013 all nonprofit hospitals and health care systems were required to conduct a community health needs assessment every three years.
This week, the Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley issued its profile for 2016. Combining statistics from local, state and national sources about disease, the environment, social factors and individual behaviors, the assessment also gathered feedback from three focus groups.
The council was formed in 2011 when five nonprofit health systems in the Lehigh Valley came together with the Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust to measure and improve the health of the Valley.
The council consists of Lehigh Valley Health Network, Sacred Heart Health System, St. Luke’s University Health Network, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation and KidsPeace. It has since expanded to include the Allentown Health Bureau, Bethlehem Health Bureau and Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Since the 2013 health assessments began, the health care council has seen an improvement in the treatment of the diseases that represent the most common causes of death in the Lehigh Valley.
As a result, people are living longer.
Heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease and diabetes are the top killers listed in the 2016 assessment, and all are showing trends of slowing down.
Also in the report, housing consistently was mentioned as one of the biggest contributors to poor health and poor quality of life in the Lehigh Valley.
Because many homes in the Lehigh Valley are old, homes are more likely to contain environmental hazards such as lead paint, asbestos and mold. According to the focus groups, these issues were a big source of stress, hopelessness, depression and anxiety.
As the report states, more education is directly related to better health. According to the report, there is a significant percentage of adults in the Lehigh Valley who are college graduates.
Allentown and Easton, however, have far more adults who have not completed high school than those with a bachelor’s degree.
Limited public transportation and long commute times limit employment opportunities for many, though, because of the distance and difficulty in commuting, the report says. Also because of a lack of access to reliable transportation, a barrier to health care access exists, making it difficult to keep doctor’s appointments.
Social factors and individual behaviors also have a big impact on what it means to live healthy lives.
According to the report, Lehigh and Northampton counties have fewer organized social groups than in other parts of the state, which provides fewer opportunities to build the social relationships that can help improve health.
With increased numbers of people living in the Lehigh Valley – and an aging population – improving the overall health of the Valley relies on individual behavior change and proactive improvement on structural forces such as educational opportunity, social support, housing, environmental health and employment.
According to Croyle, who helps many businesses in the Lehigh Valley to obtain health care coverage, securing the right benefits and programs for employees can promote a healthier population far beyond the community.
“I believe most employers who invest in the health of their employees through health benefits and wellness promotion want to achieve better health and well-being for their employees,” he said. “By making these important investments, they seek value, which benefits their organization, our communities and the nation as a whole.”