UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, held a town hall meeting to discuss the health and human services needs of Prince George’s County on June 11.
The town hall meeting was held in partnership with the RAND Corporation, a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to make communities more secure, healthy and prosperous.
The county council contracted RAND Corporation to complete the Health and Human Services Needs Assessment for Prince George’s County, which the county council sitting as the Board of Health with help conduct. Part of that process included getting feedback from residents at the town hall meeting.
“Tonight’s town hall meeting is to engage in a countywide community process and to solicit input from interested stakeholders as to the needs for services and resources to improve the health, well-being and overall quality of life of all Prince Georgians,” said County Council Chair Todd Turner.
The RAND Corporation developed a health assessment for Prince George’s County in 2009, and this town hall served to build off of what they learned from the residents back then to create release a final report in 2020.
“We are doing this work because access to quality healthcare, health promotion and disease prevention is important to the Prince George’s County Council, the Board of Health and county residents,” said RAND Corporation Health and Policy Researcher Ashley Kranz.
“As part of this work, we are analyzing data, interviewing experts and asking residents for their perspectives on this issue. The goal of this work is to develop recommendations for improving the health and wellbeing of county residents.”
Facilitated by Christopher King, program director and associate professor at the Georgetown University Department of Health Systems Administration, in addition to hearing testimony from people who signed up to speak during the meeting, the RAND Corporation and the county council took survey feedback from those in attendance as well.
During the interactive portion of the meeting, everyone answered questions about the quality of life in their community, and the results were displayed for everyone to see.
These questions included whether people think there is good health care in their community and whether where they live is safe, which most people agreed to. However, several in the room disagreed that there were good jobs and good schools in their community.
The group was also asked what they think are the top two things most needed in their community, and the majority of people selected jobs with livable wages and better schools as their response. Most people then selected chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and mental health are the top two health issues in the community.
“A lot of folks think that health care is really driven by medical care, having doctors and specialty care providers,” said King. “That’s really important but when you break it all down, the factors that really drive our health individually and as populations, it’s about what’s happening outside of the walls of medical institutions.”
Some of these factors, he said, include economic factors and the physical environment such as the air and water.
“We can have the best medical care in the world, but if we go into communities that don’t have the infrastructure for healthy living, we will not live our best lives,” he said.
About 30 people spoke in the meeting to give their thoughts on what the county can do better to provide better health services to its residents. Most of these responses had to do with mental health, the need to have more services available in schools for students and equity in access between the northern half of the county and southern half.
“Primarily mental health is a big issue in our county,” Eric So, a local pastor from Riverdale, said after the town hall. “I was glad to hear that brought up many times. A lot of times that is very much linked with our youth, so those two were kind of my biggest concerns.”
A few people mentioned how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has a significant effect on mental health not only as children, but well into adulthood, and a better understanding of ACEs will improve the mental and physical health of the county.
Citing a study done on ACEs by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, Executive Director of the Maryland State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect Claudia Remington called ACEs the “greatest public health problem of our time.”
Findings show that ACEs, which include abuse, neglect, household dysfunction and more, are very common and interconnected, and major social and physical health problems are connected to them, Remington said.
Bladensburg City Councilmember Carletta Lundy mentioned that more research on ACEs could aid social transformation.
“Building pathways to resilience in people of all ages, in children, in everybody and adults because what helps us as a community is to persevere in our resilience and commitment,” she said. “I hope we can all agree that stronger communities raise stronger families.”
Brandywine resident Bernadette Kilser told the council about how development in the county is predominantly focused north of Route 214, but the southern half of the county lacks many of the services, public transit, pedestrian walkways and infrastructure the northern half of the county receives.
Kilser called it an “equity problem,” and she mentioned how she lives three miles from the nearest grocery store and cannot get there without driving.
“There is a definite access problem when you start looking at the central and southern part of the county and until you start addressing the county as a county versus two distinct portions we are going to continue to have this problem.”
Another major topic centered on the health of children. Residents expressed concerns over the lack of healthy food choices within schools, major health issues that students may face such as asthma, diabetes and obesity, and the need for physical activity within schools including safe spaces for kids to play outside of schools.
Residents who attended the town hall, such as Dale Butler, found it to be “very interesting” and a great way of looking into what we need to do better as a county.
“I thought it was exciting that we have this forum to further expand the discussion based on health care in the county and doing more outreach for the county overall to support those goals and initiatives,” said Felicia Elvis from Upper Marlboro.