Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, March 29, 2013
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Almanac covers Fla. Keys health

It's hard for some people to stay healthy -- even in paradise.

That's one of the conclusions of a new Health Almanac recently published by the Monroe County Health Department.

The 57-page volume was designed and researched, in part, by the department's spokesman, Chris Tittel, and covers demographics, socioeconomics, health risk factors, status and resources, as well as quality of life and perceptions of health.

There's also a partial directory of health care partners such as hospitals and clinics.

The almanac was required for department accreditation in November, but has become a pet project of Tittel, who claims he did enough research for 10 such almanacs.

"One of the requirements was to do an assessment of the community," he said. "But we wanted something more than just statistics. We wanted to look at public health issues from a variety of angles."

The resulting document paints a picture of a community struggling to ensure a decent, healthy quality of life for its citizens, while maintaining the 24/7 Mardi Gras that keeps the tourist dollars rolling in.

In poring over mountains of statistics, Tittel said he made several surprising discoveries.

"We live in a county that is for the most part designed to please tourists," he said. "As a result, we have four times as many liquor licenses than in some comparable counties. ... How do we make sure that people who have that kind of access to alcohol are safe with it? ...

"How do we, as a society, make sure that we're healthy when we're surrounded by so many unhealthy things that are here for the tourists?"

He was also struck by the high rate of suicide here.

"It's the fifth leading cause of death of those under 55," Tittel said. "I found that surprising and sad."

Another revelation was the dearth of options for pregnant women getting ready to give birth.

"There's only one proper labor and delivery unit in the Keys, and that's at Lower Keys Medical Center," Tittel said. "A pregnant woman in the Upper Keys has to decide if she wants to make the trek down here, or to the mainland."

In compiling the almanac, which Tittel hopes to update annually, the department is hoping to build bridges between doctors, law enforcement, school administrators, patients and others involved in public health.

"Grant-writers in particular may find this to be a useful resource," he said.

Womankind Executive Director Kim Romano agreed.

"The almanac is very impressive," she said. "It reflects a tremendous amount of research and is well-organized. The information will help Womankind and other nonprofit organizations secure more grants.

"I was especially interested in the documented need for more gynecologists in the Keys, since we are in the process of trying to hire our first one."

By the middle of next month, Tittel plans to drive the length of the Keys distributing hard copies of the almanac to doctors in private practice. He'll then compile their names in a more comprehensive directory that he hopes to have ready by June.

"We really want to partner with other Monroe County entities," Tittel said. "We've referenced many of them at the bottom of the pages, and are trying to give them the feeling that we want to work with them."

For an e-copy of the almanac, contact Tittel at 305-809-5653 or Christopher_Tittel@doh.state.fl.us.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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