New Health Department website features interactive data to improve community health

Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - 4:58pm

The Washtenaw County Health Department debuted a new website to serve as a centralized hub for data on the health of county residents

The Washtenaw County Health Department debuted a new website to serve as a centralized hub for data on the health of county residents Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Earlier this month, the Washtenaw County Health Department debuted a new website to serve as a centralized hub for data on the health of county residents. The Health For All Washtenaw website features information from nine different census locations about approximately 250 different topics, including demographics, mental health, poverty and public safety.

In a Nov. 18 press release, Washtenaw County Health Department Communications Coordinator Kayla Steinberg explained the purpose of the website and how it is meant to benefit the community. 

“Healthforallwashtenaw.org is a central location for information, stories and action items on what impacts our health,” Steinberg said. “Think of it as an online health record for all of Washtenaw County.”

In each set of data, users are able to compare the data of the county to that of the entire state of Michigan, as well as the country. They can also see how the measurements have changed in the location over time. In some cases, the webpage for certain topics includes a section explaining to the user why the data are important.

In order to make the data more accessible, the website includes the option for users to build their own customized dashboard or view premade community dashboards, focusing on a specific location or topic. It also has options for colorblind users and a video about how to best use the website.

Once on a dashboard, users are able to see more specific information for each topic and subtopic of data. A variety of icons show how the data compares to other locations, whether the levels met the target goal and how they have changed from the prior value. Some of the data are also categorized into a green, yellow or red level based on a comparison with 500 U.S. cities. 

Washtenaw County Health Department Performance Improvement Manager Lily Guzmán discussed how the Health Department hopes the website will make information more accessible for community members. 

“We recognized that there is so much data out there,” Guzmán said. “What we really liked the idea of was having more of a central location where folks in our community can come to one central place, know it’s a trusted source and get all their data needs met at one time.” 

Based on this measure, Ann Arbor is in the red zone for adults who binge drink, homeownership, median household gross rent, people living below the poverty level and households without a vehicle, among other categories. 

Guzman also discussed how Ann Arbor is in a unique situation for data collection, as it is one of the 500 largest cities in the United States. She also explained why the large student population does not skew the data when compared to these other cities. 

“There are some specific indicators that are only available on the Ann Arbor level,” Guzman said. “That is because Ann Arbor is one of the largest 500 cities in the country, and so there are some special indicators on the website that only Ann Arbor has because there is an extra data source for them. I’m sure some of the other largest 500 cities also have large universities in them, so I would imagine there is some comparability with other communities.” 

Aubree McMahon, Public Health senior and president of the Public Health Association, commented on how University students interested in public health can use this new information to improve problems faced by the community. 

“As students at the University of Michigan, we have heightened access to people with resources that can make a difference,” McMahon said. “Making your voice heard on ways the University should give back to … the community and talking to local and state legislators for this area are some ways to draw attention to these issues. (You can also) use the new website to find programs where you can volunteer your time, resources and talents.”

In addition to data, the website also houses various resources for community members, including funding opportunities for public health projects and a community calendar of events. It also includes the ability to build a customized report to download or share with others. 

Public Health junior Maxwell Ryner is the liaison to the School of Public Health for CURIS, a public health advocacy organization. He discussed why the accessibility of data and resources is important and how it could be used for public health projects to help the Ann Arbor community, specifically with homelessness. 

“I personally believe that the information being accessible to the public is crucial in getting conversations started,” Ryner said. “(Especially when) addressing the problem of homelessness in our communities. There is far too much stigma surrounding public misconceptions regarding homelessness and is often a conversation most shy away from. Having this information available to the public would be beneficial to public awareness.” 

The creation of Health for All Washtenaw comes after a steering committee was created earlier this year — composed of ten community members, four organizations and two hospitals — to improve public health conditions and bring attention to related issues. The committee is part of a national model for improving public health through community planning known as Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships.