On Monday, a team of 20 New Haven residents armed with tablets and surveys walked down local streets and started knocking on doors, beginning an effort to assemble a snapshot of the health and wellbeing of New Haven residents.
These surveyors are carrying out the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement’s 2015 New Haven Health Survey, with the goal of continuing to work toward understanding chronic disease and associated risk factors in New Haven neighborhoods. From Aug. 31 through October, surveyors will visit randomly selected households to interview approximately 1,300 adults in six designated neighborhoods: Dixwell, West River/Dwight, Fair Haven, Hill North, Newhallville and West Rock. The survey questions address chronic disease, as well as associated risk factors such as diet, exercise, environmental factors and access to health care. After completing the 20-minute survey, participants receive a $10 Stop and Shop gift card and are entered into a lottery for a $500 cash prize.
“We’ve taken what we’ve learned to bring evidence to action,” said Jeannette Ickovics, director of CARE. “We’re here because we want to know what has worked and what has not worked.”
The survey, which takes place every three years, was previously conducted in 2009 and 2012. Previous survey results indicated that New Haven residents were affected by chronic diseases at higher rates than the national average, and the 2012 survey directed researchers’ attention to the risk factors of hunger, smoking and neighborhood safety as areas of particular concern.
“It’s really difficult to think about individual health and behavior change when people don’t feel safe going out in their communities and don’t have enough to eat,” said Alycia Santilli, director of community initiatives at CARE, whose work specifically addresses health issues in New Haven.
In response to the 2012 survey, CARE and its partners implemented new health initiatives, including community gardens, farmers’ markets, walking trails and exercise classes.
This year, the survey questions will mostly remain the same so that the new results can be compared to those of past years in order to measure improvement over time, said Ickovics. One notable addition this year is a new section on community violence, which was included partly in response to the results of previous surveys, she added.
Additionally, new questions will try to discern the change in health care coverage since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. The survey is partly funded by Yale-New Haven Hospital and will satisfy the ACA’s requirement that nonprofit hospitals carry out a community health needs assessment.
Latasha Comfort, one of the surveyors, is returning for her second year after working with CARE on the 2012 New Haven Health Survey. As a resident of West Rock, she is familiar with the challenges faced by inner city New Haven residents, she said.
Even informal conversations can be informative because respondents will often unintentionally mention details about their diet and exercise habits, she said. But responses varied across the neighborhoods: In her own mixed-income West Rock neighborhood, participants would often invite her into their homes, while residents of the Dwight-Kensington neighborhood would initially assume that she was from Social Services.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Comfort said. “It’s taught me to be more compassionate.”
Many of the surveyors were recruited through New Haven Works, a community organization that encourages University hiring of New Haven residents by pre-screening and training a qualified applicant pool.
Shenell Rogers, who was recruited through New Haven Works, has strong ties to New Haven — her family is from the city, and she has lived in Newhallville and Hill. When her father died of a heart attack, she started to think about the importance of healthy choices and affordable health care. He made several different unhealthy choices, she said, but had no health care to pay for the resulting medical expenses.
The surveyors went through a three-day training, in which they received basic training on the epidemiology of chronic disease and research methods and ethics. They also carried out mock interviews where they practiced asking the survey questions and using tablets to record responses.
In addition to making door-to-door visits, surveyors will be doing additional outreach to ensure participation, including sending letters ahead of time to selected households, making preliminary visits to leave brochures and visiting houses during evening and weekend hours when people tend to be at home, Ickovics said. The survey had around a 75 percent participation rate in both 2009 and 2012, a particularly high percentage compared to similar surveys, Ickovics added.
“We are dedicated not because it is our job but because it’s our home,” Ickovics. “We care about New Haven, we care about our city, and we care about our neighbors.”
CARE was founded in 2007.