Plan highlights need for better public health service in Routt, Moffat counties
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Public health agencies in Routt and Moffat counties are underperforming compared to other agencies across Colorado, according to a report presented during the Routt County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Feb. 25.
Both counties rated below the state average in assessment, planning and communication, according to the report, which was the result of a statewide Core Public Health Services Needs Assessment. It evaluated the core public health services and capabilities of Colorado’s 54 local public health agencies.
Notably, the counties performed slightly better than the state average in creating and supporting partnerships to achieve public health goals.
The assessment helped to inform a new public health improvement plan, which Routt County commissioners adopted Tuesday. The plan will be implemented through 2023.
The plan also is based on the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, prepared by UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, which identified a range of issues contributing to deficiencies in health care. Among the primary issues are a mix of medical factors, such as a lack of mental health providers and suicide prevention programs, and socioeconomic factors, such as a lack of affordable health care and affordable housing.
The most pressing health issues
The plan prioritizes improvements for two of the area’s most severe issues: mental health and physical safety. Officials define improvements to physical safety as a combination of reducing unintended injuries as well as preventing child abuse and domestic violence.
In relation to mental health, local public health officials want to increase equitable access to behavioral and mental health services. Northwest Colorado has struggled for years with a lack of such services, an issue that is not unique to the area. All of Colorado’s 64 counties have identified mental and behavioral health as a top issue, according to the improvement plan.
If everyone in Routt County who needed mental health services sought them out, there would simply not be enough supply, according to Tom Gangel, operations manager for Mind Springs Health in Steamboat Springs.
For decades, Routt County has seen a rise in crisis support calls resulting from mental health issues, Gangel said.
Crisis calls to Mind Springs, which used to be the sole responder to such incidents, historically rose by about 25 to 50 calls each year, Gangel said. In recent years, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center has formed and expanded its mental health services, which now handle about half of the county’s crisis cases, by Gangel’s estimate.
While that has swayed the data his organization collects, Gangel surmises the upward trend has continued, underscoring a need for more services.
“The number was clearly going up every year for the last 10 years. My guess is that has continued,” he said.
He also described some of the barriers keeping people from accessing mental health services, such as a lack of insurance coverage or stigmas that surround mental illness.
“There are still people who won’t seek health care due to fear of judgment,” Gangel said.
Routt and Moffat counties highlighted four strategy areas aimed at tackling public health issues in the Yampa Valley, all of which seek to address the gaps outlined in the two health assessments. These strategies include improving organizational communication and the referral process, developing a centralized public health data site, bettering community connectedness and improving coordination and collaboration among the various health-related organizations in the area.
“Key health leaders have determined that addressing specific health areas will not be effective until a stronger, foundational level and capacity for partner coordination and collaboration is established,” the improvement plan states.
Local officials have taken several steps in an effort to improve public health in the two counties. The recently formed Yampa Valley Well-Being Consortium, made up of local leaders from a range of community service providers, from health care organizations to housing authorities, has the goal of fostering more collaboration to address the swath of factors that contribute to local health disparities.
“That is the only way we are going to get to the tipping point and solve these health issues,” said Stephanie Monahan, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership, the nonprofit overseeing the consortium.
Its current focus is on expanding clinical access to health care, Monahan said. By March or April, the group also wants to implement programs that increase awareness of public health issues in the community. One such initiative Monahan highlighted is educating the public on ways to recognize someone in distress and where to go for help.
Monahan encouraged the public to get involved in the Yampa Valley Well-Being Consortium. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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