Volunteering goes with retirement like jelly with toast. This is especially true for the City of Fredericksburg that relies heavily on volunteers. One of my most enjoyable volunteer jobs has been to serve on the City’s and County’s Health Board.
One of the more difficult areas we have dealt with is a rise in teen pregnancies in our county. While the rate nationally and statewide has dropped in recent years, the rates in our county have continued to rise. (some wags would say we are a bit behind the times here in Gillespie County)
The rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S.A. despite the drop, remains the highest of any of the developed country. To those who complain our country is losing its competitive edge, sadly we have remained all too competitive in numbers of births to teen moms.
A local Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force has been established and will be making recommendations to our community leaders. Beginning mid-January a series of Guest Editorials will run in the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, addressing various aspects of this challenge. This editorials will focus the community’s attention on the problem while the Task Force continues to research and develop practical ways to address Teen Pregnancy. Below is my Guest Editorial as it appeared in the January 2 2013 issue of the Fredericksburg Standard Radio-Post.
Gillespie’s ‘teen baby bump’ alarms
Mary Nelson (not her real name) once held high hopes for a college degree, a professional career, international travel, and a happy marriage. Her fondest teenage dreams faded when, in a moment of uncontrolled passion, she became pregnant. Mary’s future trajectory suddenly changed from a pursuit of lofty goals to dropping out of school, settling for a minimum wage job, and becoming a welfare recipient.
Five years ago the Gillespie County Health Board repeatedly heard these types of stories. These narratives combined with alarming reports from local doctors and nurses alerted your Health Board to an alarming increase in teen pregnancies in Gillespie County. The Health Board held a series of hearings to gain a better understanding of this problem.
In 2008 the U.T School of Public Health reported the results of a study of Teen Pregnancy in Gillespie County. The full report can be found on the City’s website (under Government, Boards and Committees, Health Board Information). Over a four-year period, births at Hill Country Memorial to Gillespie County teen residents more than doubled (12 in 2004 to 25 in 2008). We learned few births to our teen mothers occurred at hospitals other than Hill Country Memorial. Since HCM numbers are more current than are state or national figures, this allowed the Health Board to rely on their teen birth statistics to determine evolving local trends.
We also learned the State of Texas repeatedly ranks among the top four states in the country in the rate of teen pregnancies. The cost of teen pregnancy with its attendant health, societal, economic, and educational impacts prove staggering for all levels of government and society. We will discuss these individual and public health problems in subsequent Guest Editorials.
A year ago the Gillespie County Health Board found that births to teen mothers continued to be high. In addition we learned of instances of births to early teens attending the Middle School. We held a year of hearings on this topic and heard excellent testimony from professionals on the front lines. Despite a 37% drop in teen births statewide (2009 data), we learned that Gillespie County rates remained high and for the first time exceeded those of our contiguous counties. Why these troubling rates exist for Gillespie County remains unclear and will be explored further.
Along with the Gillespie Translational Advisory Board, the Gillespie County Health Board formed a task force of community leaders to investigate our teen pregnancy challenge and to make recommendations to address it. This broad based community group offers a great opportunity to understand these issues and to recommend approaches to lower our teen birth rates based on local information and local values.
The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post will run additional guest editorials describing various aspects of teen pregnancy and its impact on both our teens and our entire community. These additional guest editorials will be written by Dr. Leonard Bentch, chair of our local Translational Advisory Board, and by the co-chairs of the local Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force, Dr. Ann Hoch, Pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church, and John Willome, Executive Director of the Good Samaritan Center.
The goals of the Task Force On Teen Pregnancy Prevention are to increase public awareness of teen pregnancy and to encourage broad based support for efforts to reduce it. In no way will the Task Force stop all teen pregnancies, but it is a promising beginning.
With the advent of a new year, it is time for a fresh start- a community wide approach for addressing the vexing problem of teen pregnancy in Gillespie County. It is a subject that warrants serious consideration by our citizens. The residents of Gillespie County have dealt successfully with difficult issues before. I have no doubt we will do so again.
Tom Hutton MD PhD
Chair, Gillespie County Health Board