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Will County GIS department offers insight into opioid crisis, food deserts

1/10/2018, 10:26 a.m.
The term Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is often heard but not everyone fully understands the value of the data it ...
The term Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is often heard but not everyone fully understands the value of the data it collects, analyzes, and interprets. Submitted photo

The term Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is often heard but not everyone fully understands the value of the data it collects, analyzes, and interprets.

In Will County the GIS Division is charged with gathering, analyzing and storing data related to a multitude of county operations.

The county’s GIS staff has recently teamed with the Will County MAPP (Mobilizing Action through Planning and Partnerships) collaborative. MAPP is comprised of leaders from healthcare providers in order to promote the community health concerns within the county. Through this collaboration, GIS created several interactive maps that reveal significant information relating to health concerns, health services and food accessibility within Will County.

“The GIS software is able to take data and map it in an easy, visually-appealing way that is easier to understand,” said Jennifer Gorszczyk, program manager for the county health department.

She said that the department is finalizing maps to see how food insecurity, pantry locations, and behavioral health access and services enhances their initiatives in the county.

Each of these topics have a substantial impact on many of the residents in Will County. The study about food deserts, or access to quality, healthy foods, revealed the effect the closing of large grocery store chains, such as Certified Warehouse, Dominick’s, and Ultra Foods, have had on parts of the county. Data regarding how many residents lack access to stores that provide healthy foods, in close proximity to where they live, were examined.

“What our research revealed was that many residents in these areas are reliant on gas stations and convenience stores for food purchases,” said Howard Kim, GIS Specialist and lead on these projects. “And the availability of fresh food was limited and sold at higher prices.”

Interactive maps that were created from the collected data show the size of the stores and specific items they sell. These maps also show stores that accept SNAP or WIC and lists the cost of popular items. At the end of the day, this information allows us to determine where the gaps and needs exist.

For the opioid crisis, GIS helped identify where heroin overdose incidents have occurred, how many people were saved by Narcan, and locations to drop off unused prescription drugs. The Behavioral Health Asset Mapping Project, which is still in progress, will identify how health care resources are allocated across the area. This information has been critical as the county implements programs to address the opioid drug epidemic which is affecting counties across the nation.

To access the GIS information, visit the website: www.willcogis.org.