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January 12, 2013
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Summit County resolves to assess its health in the new year

More than 20 people representing organizations, the hospital and government around Summit County met Wednesday to begin work on forming the county's strategic health plan for the next five years.

The meeting began with an overview of the results from the Summit County Health Assessment Survey. The survey, completed in September 2012, consists of a demographic overview of Summit County and detailed findings about the county's strengths, weaknesses and needs in the areas of health and health services.

Colorado state law requires that each county conduct a health assessment survey every five years in order to pinpoint community priorities and establish a countywide strategic plan. This plan will not only give each community a roadmap to follow for the next five years, but will be submitted to the state for a statewide strategic plan.

Previously, Summit County's survey was conducted in 2007. From those results, the county created a plan looking all the way forward to the year 2020 with a list of priorities and goals. This year, the county is analyzing those previous goals in the light of the results of the most current survey to see what is working, what needs changed and what needs added.

"I'm excited to move forward in establishing priorities," said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. "The priorities we have all mesh together."

Summit County's assessment survey identified four areas of priority: nutrition and physical activity, injury prevention, access to health care, and behavioral health and substance abuse. Subgroups of experts were formed to discuss each priority area individually.

The group centered around behavioral health and substance abuse discussed what measures were currently in place in the county, such as the Summit Safe Haven mental health triage and detoxification center and the Community Connections program. Potential problems with the issue included the availability and accessibility of information regarding how to get help and overcoming stigmas related to mental health.

"We want people to attend to their mental health the way they attend to their physical health," said Kathy Davis, program director of Colorado West Regional Mental Health.

The area of nutrition and physical activity encompasses many topics, including that of obesity. Much of the discussion in that subgroup revolved around programs, both in place and to be considered, that would encourage not only exercise but healthy eating habits as well. Concerns were raised over the health of young children and school students as well as their parents.

Another group worked to identify portions of the population that may have limited access to health care and then discussed ways that the county might better provide for them. Grant writing was suggested as a potentially profitable method for this topic.

Injury prevention, the fourth key area, was not identified as a priority in the assessment of 2007. However, its importance is growing, as the 2012 survey has shown.

"It's a very obvious problem in an active community like Summit County," said Dan Hendershott, the county environmental health manager. He added that statistics show that physical injuries are the main reason for people coming into the hospital's emergency room, as opposed to internal illnesses. The group for injury prevention discussed the importance of coordinating with other organizations within the county in addition to the hospital, such as law enforcement and ski patrol.

The next step for Summit County's strategic plan requires separate meetings between relevant groups regarding each of the four areas. Representatives of the groups will then reconvene to discuss their findings and strategize for the final plan, which is tentatively planned to take written form by June 1.

"This is just an initial step to try to get some information from this group ... so we can continue the conversation," said Deb Crook, a public health nurse. "This is really a step forward to where we want to go. This is a community process and it takes time."


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The Summit Daily Updated Jan 12, 2013 12:08AM Published Jan 12, 2013 12:07AM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.