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Two Important Chatham Health Projects Selected for UNC Team Research

Post Date:04/07/2017 12:30 PM
Two Chatham County entities each received the honor of being selected as a 2017-2018 Health Behavior Capstone Team in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The Chatham County Council on Aging and the Chatham Health Alliance, an initiative of the county’s Health Department, will have student teams assigned to specific projects.

“It is a unique honor to have both organizations selected in the same year for a Capstone Team project,” said County Manager Renee Paschal. “However, given the terrific leadership and staff of our Council on Aging and our Public Health Department, I am not at all surprised.”

It is the second year in a row that the Health Alliance has been selected for a Capstone Team.

Over the next school year, a team of master’s level students from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health will provide valuable resources to help develop a comprehensive plan for our aging population and market a newly developed obesity prevention toolkit for the workplace.


For the Council on Aging’s project, the Capstone Team will help develop a comprehensive plan for optimal aging in Chatham County. The team will engage Chatham residents, public officials, health and human services organizations, the business and faith communities, and other stakeholders in this planning process.

“This project is directly related to Chatham County’s recent development of a Comprehensive Plan, called Plan Chatham, to chart a course for the future. We are very excited about building on that effort by focusing on the needs and interests of our growing older population,” remarked Dennis Streets, director of the Council on Aging.

Plan Chatham is Chatham County’s multi-year effort to develop a 25-year comprehensive plan to guide decisions affecting the future land use and conservation of Chatham. In its final phase of development, the plan includes recommendations for many elements, including transportation, agriculture, natural resources/environment, utilities/infrastructure, housing, economic development, health, parks and recreation, and land use.

Plan Chatham provides a great foundation,” said Streets. “Now is certainly the time for us to better understand the opportunities and challenges we face with the growing number of older adults in Chatham.”

Chatham currently has one of the highest proportions of older adults in the state, which is projected to continue. As of 2015, Chatham had more than 22,100 residents aged 60 and older (31% of the county’s population), compared to about 14,100 aged 17 and younger (20% of the population). By 2035, forecasters project that the county will have nearly 40,000 residents age 60 and older, or 40% of the county’s population.

Chatham County also has wide variability in terms of income, education, and other factors. Streets noted, “This presents challenges in developing a viable approach to meeting the basic needs of older people in such areas as nutrition, access to health and mental health care, transportation, housing, and other human services and support systems.”

The Capstone Team will undertake activities to better understand the needs of older residents across the entire county. The project team will be based at the Chatham County Council on Aging, which is recognized as the primary portal for older adults seeking information and assistance.

The Council has two multi-purpose senior centers, located in Pittsboro and Siler City. Both centers are certified by the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services as Senior Centers of Excellence.

“As a graduate of the UNC School of Public Health in the late 1970s, I understand and respect the knowledge, skills, values, and perspective that a Capstone Team can bring to our work in Chatham County. I look forward to working with them so that we are better prepared to assist Chatham seniors and their families,” Streets added. “I also think this will prove to be an excellent learning and community engagement opportunity for the UNC student team.”

For more information about this project and the work of the Chatham County Council on Aging, contact the Council on Aging at 919-542-4512, or visit


In the current year, a Capstone Team worked with the Chatham Health Alliance in developing a workplace toolkit aimed at obesity prevention. The next Capstone Team will focus on creating ways to encourage employers to effectively use the toolkit.

“This might include identifying communications and organizational changes in the workplace that lead to reduced obesity,” said Alliance Coordinator Sarah Weller Pegna. “It is important that we help employers implement the toolkit in ways that really change habits that lead to obesity.”

County Health Director Layton Long said, “This is vital project, given that one in three Chatham adults are overweight or obese. We know that being overweight leads to various chronic health conditions. These conditions impact people’s lives in many ways, including their work life. It also can increase the cost of employer-paid health insurance.”

The Worksite Wellness Chatham Toolkit developed this year provides guidance and resources for employers, including: free, ready-to-use programs; recommended policy and environmental changes that impact worker health; and a list of related local resources.

Pegna emphasized that employers using the Worksite Wellness Chatham toolkit will receive support from the Chatham Health Alliance to implement the toolkit at their site.

“We are excited to officially launch the toolkit on Monday, May 8, at noon in the previous Agriculture Building’s Auditorium at 65 East Chatham Street in Pittsboro,” Pegna said. All interested individuals are invited to attend. By April 26, register online at or send an email to

The Chatham Health Alliance is a community coalition coordinated by the Public Health Department, where local professionals and interested residents work collaboratively to improve health in Chatham County. Its work focuses on the health priorities identified in the county’s Community Health Assessment.

Residents and groups interested in improving health in Chatham County are invited to be part of the Health Alliance.

For more information on the Chatham Health Alliance and the workplace toolkit to reduce obesity, contact Sarah Pegna Weller at or 919-545-8443.