Routt County ranks 14th in state for health outcomes | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County ranks 14th in state for health outcomes with 83.2-year life expectancy

Becky Edmiston rides in a 2017 Town Challenge mountain bike race on Emerald Mountain.Routt County was ranked the 14th in state in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report released in March by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. (File photo by Joel Reichenberger)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the latest rankings, Routt County remains one of the healthiest counties in Colorado.

Coming in at 14th out of 60 counties for “health outcomes,” the ranking measures length and quality of life. Life expectancy in Routt County is 83.2 years, compared to 80.5 for the statewide average.

The 2019 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps are a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Under the separate category of health factors, Routt County ranked second in the state, with Douglas County taking the top spot and Pitkin County coming in third. “Health factors” examines 30 health-influencing factors such as housing, education, jobs and access to quality health care.

Not surprisingly, the counties with the best health outcomes tend to also fall along the lines of the state’s wealthiest counties.

Routt County moved down from 10th place for health outcomes in 2018 and fourth place in 2017. The downward trend in health outcomes is not necessarily showing that health outcomes in Routt County are getting worse. Instead, it indicates other counties are improving, said Northwest Colorado Health CEO Stephanie Einfeld.

“We haven’t seen a significant decline in any area,” she said. “We are a healthy county. We have been a healthy county. We remain a healthy county, which is great.”

The report highlights areas for improvement, but she said those are “things we are already laying the groundwork for in the community.”

In other words, the rankings are valuable for narrowing in on some of the biggest challenges facing the county — like housing, mental health and substance use — but this year’s data continues to put a spotlight on some of the same issues.

“It’s stuff we all know,” Einfeld said of the most pressing health concerns in the community and for the various agencies working to address those concerns.

“It helps bring all of us around the table and using the same language to combat the things that ail us,” Enfield explained.

In addition, it helps show outside agencies — like the federal government — where those needs are when it comes to funding. It gives “teeth” to better address those needs, she said.

“It’s like an annual physical,” saidDan Weinheimer, Routt County’s deputy county manager.

He said the report “shows us where we stand and where we need to improve.”

Substance use remains a big issue for the county, something Weinheimer said local leaders are “keeping an eye on.”

And a big emphasis is on reaching young people and making sure the resources are in place to best position kids to avoid potentially negative consequences from substance use and abuse, Weinheimer said.

Lindsey Simbeye, executive director of Grand Futures, detailed some of the things her nonprofit is working on to address substance use and abuse.

With favorable attitudes toward substance use identified as one of the county’s biggest risk factors under the Communities that Care initiative, Simbeye said her organization is working to reach the adults who play a role in the lives of young people, in addition to a significant amount of resources put toward educating and providing resources for young people.

Simbeye also described efforts to educate employees in bars, restaurants and other places that serve and sell alcohol. Those trainings teach servers both how to protect themselves and their establishments, as well as how to decrease instances of drunk driving.

Housing always comes up in these types of rankings, and housing issues can create significant stress, Weinheimer noted. And when housing takes up a large part of a person’s income, other things — like spending on healthcare — can fall by the wayside.

The rankings, according to Weinheimer, are an opportunity to work with other counties on solutions and create positive change based on what works in other parts of the state.

One concrete example of addressing identified areas of need, said Einfeld, was adding behavioral health services in South Routt. Northwest Colorado Health has had those services available in their Steamboat Springs office but about a month ago began offering it at the South Routt Medical Center in Oak Creek.

They also do behavioral health screenings with dentist visits she said, part of a wider integration of medicine that has helped to reduce stigma and increase accessibility for services.

The feedback on the dental/behavioral health integration has shown positive results, she said.

“It’s been welcomed, because we know there’s a need there,” Enfield said.

The rankings also play a part in the Community Health Needs Assessment, part of a five-year cycle in which a handful of partners collect and evaluate qualitative and quantitative data and then turn that into an action plan.

Numerous groups, Einfeld said, will use the information gathered through the survey. She strongly encourages as many people as possible take the survey, as it gives the community a stronger and more accurate voice.

“It will help drive a lot of community-based efforts and improvements over the next few years,” she said.

The survey needs to be completed by April 1. It can be accessed online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NWCOcommunityhealthneedsassessment.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.


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