Lawrence M. Walsh
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is an often heard term but not everyone fully understands the value of the data it collects, analyzes, and interprets. The Will County 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 Will County MAPP Collaborative is excited about partnering with GIS to map public health data across the county, said Jennifer Gorszczyk, program manager for the county health department. “The GIS software is able to take data and map it in an easy, visually-appealing way that is easier to understand. We can’t wait to share the final maps with our partners 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.
“The GIS Division is somewhat of a best kept secret in the county,” said Becky Colwell-Ongenae, GIS Supervisor. “We are here and enjoy working with other departments and agencies to better serve the citizens of our county.”
“I am very proud of Becky and all our GIS staff,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. “They do an excellent job collecting important data about Will County and making this information available to the public.”
To access the GIS information, visit the website: www.willcogis.org.