GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – As the Upstate population climbs, community health needs to grow along with it.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half a million people currently live in Greenville County.

“The growth has been unreal,” John and Elonda Sherman said.

The influx of people is what John and Elonda Sherman, long-time Greenville County residents, said they have seen over the years.

It’s also a reason why Bon Secours Health System said access to health care is so important.

“They want Greenville to not only be healthy and whole, but safe and they want to make sure that resources are spread out across the entire community,” said Bon Secours St. Francis employee Sean Dogan.

Dogan is the director of community health at Bon Secours.

Every three years, he said, they evaluate the needs of Greenville County through a ‘Community Health Needs Assessment.’

“It’s an assessment of the community that gives us the direction or priorities of the hospital we’ll utilize to provide services out in the community,” Dogan said.

After listening to the community, areas with significant health needs include:

  • Affordable Housing
  • Homelessness
  • Safety/Crime
  • Transportation
  • Health Equity
  • Healthcare Access
  • Mental Health
  • Alcohol/Drug Abuse
  • Aging and Alzheimer’s
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases

The top areas that will be prioritized are:

  • Housing and Homelessness
    • According to Bon Secours’ research, housing was identified as one of the top three areas of concern. As housing becomes less affordable, the area is seeing a rise in the number of homeless individuals in Greenville County, the study said.
  • Behavioral and Mental Health
    • Bon Secours said behavioral and mental health was a previous Community Health Needs Assessment priority that is important to continue working on.
  • Access to Care, with a health equity and cultural competency lens
    • Although Greenville has many sliding scales and free care providers, Bon Secours said its current capacity does not meet demand. In addition, there is growing recognition that the community needs to improve its focus on health equity and cultural competency. The research showed the elderly is a population identified by the community as vulnerable and in particular need of help to access services.

Based on the community’s response, those three major areas are what the hospital system said they’re focusing on to provide education and services to the area for the next several years.

However, they can’t do it alone.

Bon Secours has a list of partners who are helping, including Habitat for Humanity.

Monroe Free, president and CEO of Greenville County’s Habitat for Humanity, said the non-profit organization provides homeownership opportunities for families with low income.

“These are families who are below the 80% of the area median income and we provide them with a mortgage that is affordable; that is under 30% of their income,” Free said. “We prepare them. We help them and we partner with them so that they can become successful homeowners.”

Free sees firsthand how housing impacts the health of a community.

“Communities who have higher rates of homeownership have lower crime rates. There’s more civic engagement; more engagement with the neighborhood,” Free explained. “It creates healthier neighborhoods and healthy neighborhoods create healthy families and healthy families create healthy children.”

It’s not just housing and homelessness that’s an issue in Greenville County. The focus is also on mental health.

“We know that mental health especially after the pandemic became a hot topic and we are seeing that people are still grieving, and people are still trying to figure out how to do life,” Elonda Sherman said.

“We are going to have things such as ‘Walk with a Doc,’ where we will have individuals take a walk with mental health professionals, asking questions. Also mental health first aid; providing that for communities and congregations,” Dogan said.

“They make an effort to get out and participate and be a part of the community and I think that’s important,” said Upstate resident Steve Collins.

Bon Secours said they’re working on a plan that will also include better access to care.

“I could only imagine that I adds to the stress load. And we know that stress leads to other health issues,” Elonda Sherman said.

A fix could soon be coming as Dogan said a proposal will be presented to the hospital board in April for review.

That proposal will lay out a more specific plan outlining ways to assist the needs of the community.

“I applaud it. I think it’s a good thing and would like to see more of it,” John Sherman said.

“To know that the system is really looking for a way to step up, it makes a difference,” Elonda Sherman said.

“We’re here. We’re here to stay. We love Greenville and Greenville is important. We look forward to providing health access to our residents for years to come,” according to Dogan.

Bon Secours said they have seen improvement in behavioral health, housing and obesity in Greenville County.

They are three areas a previous assessment targeted as areas to improve from 2019-2021.

A research team plans to reevaluate health needs in 2025.