What can be done to retain Derby families who are struggling to stay in the city? Why are the asthma rates so high in Ansonia and Derby? By the year 2025, the Valley’s senior citizen population is expected to have grown by 102 percent since 1990. But will those seniors be able to live in their homes? Will there be a support system to help them? What will they need?

Those were just some of the questions pondered in Shelton last month during the unveiling of the 2016 Valley Community Index, a comprehensive report outlining the challenges facing the lower Naugatuck Valley.

The report, which was unveiled during a forum at Scinto Auditorium (3 Corporate Drive) in Shelton, is a call to action for Valley leaders — or at least a blueprint for one. Similar studies in the past showed breast cancer rates in the Valley were higher than the norm, and the conversations over that subject led to the The Hewitt Center for Breast Wellness at Griffin Hospital in Derby, which opened in 2011.

At the end of last month’s forum, many people in the audience — school superintendents, nonprofit leaders, state and local elected officials — stuck around after the event was over. They were talking about forming subgroups to attack the issues raised in the report. The forum featured a speaker panel. Each panelist took a specific nugget of data from the index and expanded upon it.

“We didn’t ask the panelists to tell us about the good news,” Sharon Closius, president and CEO of the Valley Community Foundation, said. “Everybody knows about the good news in the Valley — about how beautiful it is, and the quality of life. But we asked them to talk about issues you may not know about.”

The panelists included: Patrick Charmel, the president and CEO of Griffin Hospital in Derby; Christopher Clouet, the superintendent of the Shelton school district; David Morgan, the president and CEO at TEAM, Inc. in Derby; Bill Purcell, the president of the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce; Suzanne Reilly, TEAM Inc.‘s director of family support services; Jack Walsh, the recently retired president of the Valley United Way.

Charmel said the community index points out significant disparities in the wellbeing of Valley residents. For example, in Derby and Ansonia, emergency room visits for asthma hovers around 12 visits per 1,000 people. In Shelton, the rate is about 3 visits per 1,000 people. The hospital is already taking steps to address the issue.

“What is leading to this?” Charmel asked. “Access to care and medication to manage that asthma? Is it the environment? We have to look at the quality of housing. Is there something going on in the environment, in someone’s home that is leading to these acute exacerbations? Is it general wellbeing? Things like nutrition and physical activity?” ....

The community index covers Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby, Naugatuck, Oxford, Seymour and Shelton. DataHaven was the lead author of the index. Lead sponsors included the Bassett Family Fund, Griffin Health Services, Inc., Katharine Matthies Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee; and the Valley United Way. For more information, visit the Valley Community Foundation’s website.