FDRHPO releases 2020 community health survey findings

COVID-19 impact reflected in many results.

WATERTOWN, NY — The 2020 Community Health Survey of adult residents in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties findings report is now available. This survey has been completed every year since 2016 with the intent to support and plan future initiatives, monitor changes within the community, as well as raise community awareness through the process of surveying. The sample size in the 2020 survey was 2,436, resulting in an average margin of error of ±2.5%.

“It is important to note that this survey was conducted in June of 2020, while the region was still under restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains Megan Donato, FDRHPO Data Analyst. “While the extent cannot be directly measured, the effects of the pandemic certainly contributed to differences in the findings. This was to be expected, as the pandemic took its toll on many factors that influence an individual’s health.”

Measures that were not expected to be impacted by COVID-19 include the percentage of those who have a primary care provider and the safety of one’s neighborhood, neither of which differed from previous findings. However, measures relating to self-reported physical and mental health, emergency room visits, and access to exercise opportunities all decreased in 2020.

Below is a summary of some of the findings. The results for all survey questions, as well as much more detailed findings can be found in the full report by visiting www.ncnyhealthcompass.org.

Experiences with Health Services

  • Four out of five (81%) North Country residents in 2020 have one person or medical office that they think of as their personal doctor or health care provider.  This rate has not significantly changed between 2016 and 2020.

  • Use of telemedicine – With almost one-third (29%) of North Country residents saying that they have participated in a telemedicine visit, and nearly one-half (48%) of North Country residents indicate that if given the option to see a healthcare provider for a routine or follow-up appointment using telemedicine, they are likely to choose telemedicine in place of an in-person office visit(Note: This increase is also reflected in FDRHPO’s and its partners’ 2020 telemedicine encounters. In 2019, those encounters totaled 4.761 for the entire year. As of June 30, 2020, total encounters were 32,858.)

  • Potential barriers to telemedicine – Seven potential barriers to one choosing to use telemedicine were studied in 2020.

    • “Quality of care in telemedicine” – 68% responded major or minor barrier

    • “Technical problems connecting” – 53%

    • “Concerns with insurance coverage” – 51%

    • “Security and privacy” – 49%

    • Less than 40% of participants reported each of the following three items as barriers: “access to reliable Internet service” (37%), “doctor does not offer telemedicine” (34%), and “lack of access to a smartphone, computer, or tablet” (32%).

Personal Health

  • Almost eight-in-ten (79%) North Country residents in 2020 agree with the statement “I am actively working to improve my health” (a decrease from 91% in 2016).

  • 42% of North Country residents in 2020 continue to be somewhat optimistic about their personal physical health (a decrease from 50% in 2018).

  • 53% of North Country residents continue to be optimistic in 2020 about their personal mental health (a decrease from 60% in 2018).

  • While three-fourths (75%) of adults in the North Country still report having been to their primary care doctor’s office at least one in the past 12 months, including both routine check-ups and occasions when they were ill, only 16% report having received care at an emergency room at least once in the past 12 months, and 7% report having been admitted to a hospital at least once in the past 12 months.  Both values are at an all-time low, falling from highs in 2016 of 30% and 15% respectively.

  • The rate of alcohol consumption has increased in 2020 from earlier rates found. Approximately four-fifths (80%) of adults in 2020 indicate that they drink alcohol. Approximately 61% of adults currently indicate that they drink alcohol at least 1-2 times per month or more (an increase from 52% in 2019).

  • The 2020 findings on tobacco use are mixed.  Approximately one-fifth (19%) of adults in the North Country in 2020 describe their cigarette use status in 2020 as “current users,” and 14% indicate “every day” cigarette use (an increase from 10% in 2019). However, current use of smokeless tobacco and current use of e-cigarettes has declined since 2019.  Only 4% of respondents report currently using smokeless tobacco, either some days or every day, down from 7% in 2019.  Current use of e-cigarettes has fallen to 4% from 9% in 2019.

Current Lifestyle

  • 86% of North Country residents indicate satisfaction with the availability of their family’s access to places where they can walk and exercise, either indoors or outdoors , and 91% are satisfied with the availability of their family’s access to healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables (91% reporting “at least somewhat available” in the North Country).  For access to exercise opportunities, the rate of indicating access as “very available” fell from 65% in 2018 to 55% in 2020.  For access to healthy foods, the rate of indicating access as “very available” fell from a high of 76% in 2019 to 63% in 2020.


  • North Country residents in 2020 are very interested in obtaining testing for COVID-19. More than seven-in-ten adults (71%) are interested in being tested with the COVID-19 antibody test to determine if infected in the past. More than one-half of adults (57%) are interested in being tested with the COVID-19 viral test to determine if currently infected.

  • The majority of North Country residents plan to continue practicing healthy behaviors recommended to reduce transmission of COVID-19 including frequent hand-washing for 20 seconds or more (89%), wearing a mask in public (74%), social distancing (73%), limiting in store shopping (61%), and limiting social gatherings (61%).  While the level of engagement in these recommended behaviors varies, only 6% are not planning to continue any of these behaviors.

“Results of this survey are key to community health planning and to measuring progress toward community health goals,” concludes Ms. Donato. “FDRHPO and other healthcare stakeholders use this data to develop actionable items that target the North Country’s specific healthcare needs.”