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Newsroom Conversations: Data nerds rejoice as Cape Fear Collective launches free, public health metrics dashboard

Two counties stand out with high overdose death rates: Robeson and New Hanover Counties. Both are in the top 15 in the state.
Cape Fear Collective
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Healthy Communities NC Dashboard
Two counties stand out with high overdose death rates: Robeson and New Hanover Counties. Both are in the top 15 in the state.

Cape Fear Collective launched a new data analysis tool today for nonprofits and community members in the region. The Healthy Communities North Carolina 2030 dashboard details numerous indicators for health and could help drive policy at the city, county and state levels. WHQR's Kelly Kenoyer and Rachel Keith take a closer look.

Kelly Kenoyer: Hey, Rachel. So you and I went to Cape Fear Collective's Deep Data Dive event, and my head is absolutely ringing with facts and figures. Can you remind me about the basis for this whole project?

Rachel Keith: So this dashboard was built around 21 public health indicators that were developed by the state government, and the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. And these indicators run a broad gamut from prenatal health care, access to overdose deaths to poverty, and they're supposed to track health goals and give a sense of where communities are doing well, and where they're not.

KK: Yeah, I remember seeing this dial with all of those 21 indicators, it seems like this region is doing really well when it comes to infant mortality. But we're not doing so well on primary health care access or life expectancy.

RK: Yeah, that stood out to me as well. And these indicators go a lot further in depth than one little data point. For example, poverty is broken down by race, ethnicity, sex and age, and can be viewed on the county level or at the census tract level.

KK: And you can view it over time. I noticed that New Hanover County's poverty rate increased from 2012 to 2015. That's probably a lingering result of the Great Recession. But it's been trending downward since then. And at the census tract level, you can see that poverty has become much more concentrated in the downtown area as time has gone on. But places like Carolina Beach have actually left poverty in the dust.

RK: And part of what was so great about learning this tool is that there were representatives from local governments. From the county government, the county health director was there. So were leaders of nonprofits, so they were asking how they could use this dashboard to inform how they can help the community.

KK: Yeah, we were looking at overdose deaths and one of my team members noticed that New Hanover County barely moved the dial on drug overdoses between 2016 and 2019. It just moved from 36 deaths per capita to 34. But while New Hanover County was stagnating, Brunswick County, just across the river moved from 38 deaths per capita to just 24. So that's the kind of comparison we can look at to try and figure out which programs are working and which ones don't work.

Drug-Overdoes-Death-Rate-per-100000-Population-2018-2019Top-25 (1).png
Cape Fear Collective
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Healthy Communities NC Dashboard
Robeson and New Hanover Counties are in the top 15 worst counties for overdose deaths.

RK: Yes, my group looked at overdose deaths as well, but we looked at it as a region. And when you look at the region on this dashboard, it's New Hanover County, and Robeson County which have the highest overdose deaths per 100,000 population per capita that you mentioned. Also, Robeson and New Hanover are in the top 15 for overdose rates for counties. Overdose rates, they are increasing this decade, you can just look at this bar graph, and it's going up, up, and up. And it's going up for all demographics. So you could just quickly look at this data point and say we have a major issue. And then they had another table that showed you that the reason for these overdose deaths are mainly narcotics.

 The Cape Fear region's drug overdose deaths, with comparisons by race across several years.
Cape Fear Collective
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Healthy Communities NC Dashboard
The Cape Fear region's drug overdose deaths, with comparisons by race across several years.

KK: Wow. And some of this data goes all the way back to 2010. So we can look into a lot of different things with this data. And there are so many opportunities; I think nonprofits will be able to use it to decide where their efforts can go the furthest. And for my own reporting, I'm really excited about some of the expansions that they've scheduled for this data. So in May, they plan to expand this project to cover every single county in North Carolina. And it'll be divided into different regions. And eventually, these massive public datasets that they're using for these analyses will be available for download for anyone who wants them. And even though they were public, previously, they weren't very accessible for non-data nerds. So now the data nerds have made it possible for all of us to use this.

RK: And Cape Fear Collective, the data scientists were very open to feedback from these community groups, from local governments. It looks like now they're planning to add data on community violence, about veterans, how they're affected by some of these indicators, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQIA+ community as well.

KK: There were a lot of interesting people there to learn about this dashboard from WARM, from the city, the county, Novant Health. What do you think they'll do with all this information?

RK: Well, for example, Scott Whisnant, he's the administrator of the Community Relations Department at Novant Health. He was wondering, how does life expectancy connect with other indicators like access to primary care, reading scores, and poverty? He said, "We're constantly playing Whack-a-Mole with these indicators [or these issues]. So what's the best mole to get?" So he's looking at, can we find an indicator that can open success for other indicators, so we can bring all of these issues to the forefront.

KK: Yeah, and I noticed that Abdul Hafeedh Bin Abdullah, who's the founder and executive director of Sokoto House, he was interested in how to concentrate his efforts to resolve community violence. But that's a statistic that's not really available on the dashboard. So that was some feedback that they took in mind very significantly when he brought it up. But he did mention that the social determinants for community violence were available on the dashboard, and that information is going to help his team decide where to concentrate their outreach efforts.

RK: And I also took note of Joe Conway of the city of Wilmington, the new chief equity and inclusion officer, he said that he'd like to focus on two to three indicators, which will help drive where the city diverts resources. He also said that he's interested in the intersectionality of these indicators, like what Scott Whisnant said.

KK: So what else is next for this dashboard?

RK: So they said that they're working on statistical breakdowns, for example, correlation analysis, what Joe Conway and Scott Whisnant were asking about, how does poverty translate with reading scores? Or how does reading translate to life expectancy or access to primary care? How do these impact one another, they'd like to see more of that?

KK: Very cool. Well, I look forward to seeing what the community can do with this new data tool. Thank you so much, Rachel.

RK: Thank you.