Mental health stands out in assessment |

Mental health stands out in assessment

Access to mental healthcare is the top priority in this year's county health improvement plan. It was also the top priority for the last plan done in 2013.
Byron Hetzler | Sky-Hi News

2013 Grand County Community Health Assessment Top 10 Priorities

1. Mental Health

2. Access to Health Services

3. Maternal, Infant and Child Health

4. Substance Abuse/Alcohol

5. Health Information and Awareness

6. System Navigation

7. Dental Health

8. Immunization and Infectious Diseases

9. Domestic Violence Prevention

10. Senior Health

Grand County released its latest Community Health Assessment, which identified mental health issues as its top priority.

To conduct the assessment, Grand County Public Health worked with Summit County. The partnership came after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment encouraged local public health agencies to collaborate in their community health assessments. Grand and Summit counties were able to pool funds and share a consultant, Denver-based consulting firm Corona Research Inc. Consultants used telephone surveys and focus groups with year-round Grand County residents, a Spanish-language resident survey and an online survey of health professionals.

Colorado law mandates each county to conduct health assessments every five years. Grand County’s last health assessment was issued in 2006, and its current study was a few years overdue. But the 2013 health assessment showed the county has made significant strides in addressing health care needs, allowing more deeply rooted issues to surface.

“I think our needs as a community in 2006 were much more basic,” said Jen Fanning, executive director with Grand County Rural Health Network, a partner in the assessment.

Among the health care victories since 2006 is increased access to dental care, especially for children. In 2007, the county began an initiative to bring mobile dental vans to the county, improving access for low-income children. According to Fanning, that initial screening found 62 percent of children had caries, which can lead to cavities, or urgent dental needs like abscesses. Through increased accessibility, vouchers and fluoride programs, only 17 percent of kids had cavities by 2013.

Fanning said a coordinated system of health care providers, called the Grand County Healthcare Professionals Society, actively worked to connect county residents with primary physicians they trusted. The organization also worked to create partnerships and work toward a series of goals as part of its Health Grand County 2020 Plan.

Moving forward, local health professionals are looking at health needs that are more long-term and complicated, Fanning said.

“In 2013, we have addressed some of those more basic needs which has allowed mental health to come to the forefront,” she said. “Mental health has always been a need, but the time is right now to address it.”

According to Brene Belew-Ladue, director at Grand County Public Health, a another partner in the assessment, mental health is a growing concern statewide. In addition to Grand County, 20 additional Colorado counties called mental health a top priority. Both Belew-Ladue and Fanning said it’s likely, at least in part, because of tragic current events stemming from mental health issues, like the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and the more recent Araphoe High School shooting.

“They’ve been stating a lot of the perpetrators had mental health problems,” Belew-Ladue said. “It’s been a high issue in the state and nationally.”

A Community effort

Access to health services remains a high priority lingering from the 2006 assessment, and a product of the unique challenges facing a rural mountain community. Vehicles are mandatory for most residents to reach doctors, medical facilities and programs for the uninsured. While some rural mountain counties, like Summit and Routt, have dense population centers, Grand County residents often have more of a trek in connecting with resources.

“Our (population) is spread out so we can’t just build something in one place and expect everyone to be able to get there,” Fanning said.

The 2013 Community Health Assessment also points out that “access” is a difficult priority to define. Beyond transportation limitations, residents’ access to health care can be further limited by a lack of information or awareness of the programs available. While the assessment recommends a marketing strategy to help inform residents about programs and resources, both Fanning and Belew-Ladue said local involvement is the most important tool in addressing public health priorities.

“It’s not just about public health, it’s a community assessment,” Belew-Ladue said. “It’s going to take the community’s help to address it.”

For the top issue of mental health, Fanning and Belew-Ladue recommend locals get involved with Mind Springs Health, which just moved from the Granby airport to the town’s old Centura Health medical clinic. This more-accessible location offers mental health classes. Or residents concerned about helping friends and family can contact the Rural Health Network or Public Health for guidance.

“We always need people who are willing to get educated on the issue, help solve the issue, and help educate their friends,” Fanning said.

While health priorities shift and different programs may alter the health care landscape, like mandates from the Affordable Care Act, local agencies like hers will continue to adapt to meet local needs.

“It is a changing landscape right now, and we can just do the best we can to make sure our residents can get the care when they need it,” she said.

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