Health study reveals issues

The 2013 Seneca County Health Assessment showed substance abuse still is a problem in the county.

Nancy Cochran, chairman of the Seneca County Health Alliance, anticipates a rise in heroin abuse in the next survey. It is more accessible than prescription drugs.

“Heroin is cheaper than a six-pack of beer,” she said.

Charla Van Osdol of Firelands, chairman of Community Action for the Reduction of Substance Abuse, said the most recent report shows a drop in substance abuse in Seneca County. That suggests some success of local programs; however, she said many people use drugs to comfort themselves after sexual abuse, family difficulties, bullying and other traumas.

The 147-page final draft of the health assessment, compiled by the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio, was released Wednesday at a meeting at the North Central Ohio Educational Resource Center.

This is the county’s fourth assessment since 2001. A new organization, CARSA, grew out of the first assessment. Subsequent surveys have been used to look at local trends and to compare the health status of area residents to people in other states and across the nation.

“This comprehensive survey lends credibility to health alliance members as we write grant applications,” Cochran said. “Seneca County’s two hospitals use this data from the health assessment and the strategic plan in their mandated Community Health Improvement Plans.”

Representatives from the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio led the presentation. Britney Ward, assistant director of health planning, gave an overview of the methods used to compose and select the survey questions, collect data and analyze results. She said the assessment fits into the new health care mandates that are being initiated by the Affordable Care Act. Ward also the highlighted the findings for each category.

Michelle Von Lehmden, health assessment coordinator for HCNO, explained how alliance members selected the four most pressing issues to address with action steps for the strategic plan. The committee looked at resources already available in the county and services that were lacking.

“Everything we did for the action plan was based on the data,” Von Lehmden said.

When participants split into small groups, Seneca Count Juvenile Court Judge Jay Meyer offered concerns. Many of the youth he sees have been troubled by some kind of trauma that may not be obvious, he said. Meyer would like more resources to identify the root of the problem and treat each youth effectively. Family therapy may be needed to improve the behavior of its individual members.

“If there’s a drug and alcohol issue, I’ll have them in court for a year and find out later they’re still using while getting treatment,” Meyer said.

A child who does make positive changes may be thrust back into an environment that does not support his or her efforts, Meyer said. A treatment program at Firelands cannot be effective if parents are not motivated to help.

Cochran said many programs provide funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“In my five years on the bench, I’ve never had money be the sole barrier. Usually, it’s an excuse or (lack of) parental support,” Meyer said.

The discussion group suggested adding more questions about heroin and prescription drug abuse to the next survey. Another group wanted information about gambling and the sources of anxiety that youth are facing.

A rash of serious motor vehicle accidents also came up in the discussion. Participants suggested that even pre-school children can learn more about automobile and fire safety. The increasing numbers of guns in area homes also raised concerns.

Cochran emphasized the interdependence among county agencies to share information and improve conditions in the community.

“We need to go back to our organizations, all of us included, and start looking at three years out,” she advised.

The 2013 Seneca County Health Assessment is posted online at

It also is available on a CD and in print form. To obtain a copy, contact Nancy Cochran at or (419) 448-0640.