FrankTalks highlights top health priorities for Williamson County

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FrankTalks panelists Briana Gochett, Chelsei Granderson and Cathy Montgomery, left to right, discussed the county’s top health priorities based on a community health assessment.

With a mayor possessing an extensive background in the medical field, Franklin has kept health a top priority with a number of government and community initiatives, and a deeper dive into the trends and statistics throughout the county show these initiatives are right on target. 

Franklin Tomorrow hosted its monthly FrankTalks event at the Williamson County Enrichment Center Monday, welcoming Chelsei Granderson and Briana Gochett, community health coordinators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Cathy Montgomery, Williamson County health director, to talk about the community health assessment conducted every few years. The top four priorities garnered from this study and community discussions were mental health, health education, substance abuse and affordable housing. 

As Granderson discussed the assessment, she shared that, from 2013 to 2018, 143 people in Williamson County died by suicide. Montgomery added that the county received over 700 calls for service due to threats of suicide and faced 284 suicide attempts on top of that death toll. 

“We’ve got to start having these conversations,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to start reducing the stigma of suicide and having discussions.” 

She mentioned the mental health panel Franklin Mayor Ken Moore has been formulating, which seeks to facilitate these conversations and bring awareness to the community about mental health and suicide, is a way to direct people in need to resources, which requires the availability of resources. 

Granderson explained primary and dental care availability in the county are competitive with the top 10 counties in the country, and there are more insured residents than the U.S. average. However, mental health care availability falls behind. 

Williamson County has a mental health provider for every 700 people, which is a better ratio than the state average of one per 740, but lags behind the top 10 U.S. counties, which ranks at one per 330 people.  

Montgomery shared the mayor’s mental health panel hopes are to receive grant money to certify 15 people in question-persuade-refer (QPR) training. Moore plans to speak at schools, churches and organizations about mental health. 

When it comes to substance abuse, Gochett shared that, nationwide in 2016, about 15.5% of adults were tobacco users, and Williamson County dipped slightly below the nation’s average at 15%. Additionally, 14% of adults in Tennessee reported binge drinking, and Williamson County came in at 17%. 

However, Montgomery explained when it comes to children, the community has a different concern. 

“When we looked at the data and we looked at school surveys and we looked at we looked at opioid addiction and so forth in our community, really, one of the biggest things that we see in our local schools is on vaping and marijuana use,” she said. “We really kind of thought it was going to be around substance use or prescription drug use.” 

Brittany Laborde, public health educator with the Tennessee Department of Health, said she and other specialists have held vaping presentations at high schools and some middle schools throughout the county and are also trying to work with the local school districts to educate parents as well. 

“[We want] to get the word out for parents to know what to look for with their children,” Laborde said. “These devices are easy to hide, so sometimes parents aren’t aware of what they look like, and just getting the word out to the public and even to the kids about the dangers of these products, because I think there’s a misconception that these products are healthier than cigarettes, but they’re all unhealthy and dangerous.” 

Lastly, surveys conducted as part of the community health assessment showed 77% of residents do not think there is adequate affordable housing availability, and this, too, can contribute to health in the community.

“A person’s health is influenced by many factors, including housing, education, employment and access to food,” Montgomery said. “These factors are sometimes referred to as ‘social determinants of health.’ While poverty rates remain low in Williamson County compared to the state and nation, many residents of the county are cost-burdened with housing. This means 30% or more of their monthly income is spent on housing.” 

The assessment showed large portions of Fairview and Franklin and a small section of Brentwood contain households spending over 28% of their income on housing, and the majority of the county’s southern half spends between 21% and 28%. 

Affordable housing has been a consistent focus for the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen as they continue projects on “The Hill” behind the Sonic Drive-In on Fifth Avenue and in other areas throughout the city. Additionally, nonprofits such as the Hard Bargain Association and Community Housing Partnership of Williamson County continue to work on affordable housing projects in the area. 

“The city of Franklin does a phenomenal job with looking at affordable housing for especially not only our low-income residents … [but also] looking at senior resident facilities for our aging population,” Montgomery said. “But what we really want to do … is to go out into some of our other areas of our county like Spring Hill and Brentwood and so forth and start having these discussions about affordable housing.” 

She said walkability is also an important contributor to community health, a topic several city mayors and Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson mentioned as priorities at Franklin Tomorrow’s recent Breakfast with the Mayors event. 

To watch the full FrankTalks presentation, visit the Franklin Tomorrow Facebook page. For more information on the organization, visit

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