Health ranks high in importance not only in Summit County but in Colorado as a whole, as demonstrated by Governor John Hickenlooper’s announcement Monday, entitled “The State of Health: Colorado’s Commitment to Become the Healthiest State.” According to Summit County health officials, the statewide issues hew closely to those dealt with by county residents.
The governor and the department of health is embarking upon a plan to boost Colorado up in the rankings of the heathiest states in the country. To do this, the plan intends to create a statewide system to address key issues in the health of Coloradans. After examining input from health care providers, advocates, lawmakers, insurance companies and foundations, efforts will be focused upon the promotion of prevention and wellness, the expansion of coverage, access and capacity of health care, the improvement of health system integration and quality, and the enhancement of value and strengthening sustainability.
These strategic focuses and the initiatives that go along with them reflect Colorado’s 10 “winnable battles,” identified as the main health issues faced across the state. While there are 10 stated “winnable battles,” the State of Health campaign has narrowed in on what it considers the top three in terms of importance — reducing obesity, improving oral health, and promoting better mental health and preventing substance abuse.
“It looks like Governor Hickenlooper is trying to make us healthier,” quipped Julie Draguns, chief financial officer of High Country Healthcare and member of PANTS.
PANTS — the Physical Activity and Nutrition Team of the Summit — is a local organization that advocates healthy eating and active lifestyles within the Summit County community. The group has been involved with brainstorming and planning in the wake of the results of the Summit County Health Assessment Survey conducted in 2012.
The survey identified four priority areas of health-related focus within Summit County — behavioral health and substance abuse, access to health care, injury prevention and nutrition and physical activity. Individuals and organizations around the county then broke into four sub-committees to tackle each problem. PANTS, unsurprisingly, joined the group discussion related to injury prevention and nutrition and physical activity.
The governor’s announcement of priorities seem to go along with those that Summit County has been looking at, Draguns said.
“I think that we have pretty similar issues and pretty similar demographics through the rest of the county,” she said, as compared to the state as a whole.
One of the initiatives detailed in the governor’s announcement, for example, announced a goal to prevent more than 150,000 Coloradans from becoming obese. For PANTS, obesity, particularly in children, is a hot issue. While Colorado may be lean in comparison with other states, Draguns said, the state’s rate of childhood obesity is growing faster than many other places throughout the country.
“I think it’s definitely a key concern and a key topic to address, which is totally in line with what John Hickenlooper has put in his plan,” Draguns said.
Fortunately, the problem of obesity is one that seems solvable, on both the state and local level.
“We will build on Colorado’s unique strengths, including our strong health economy and infrastructure and our dedication to collaboration and innovation, to become the healthiest state,” Hickenlooper stated in his announcement Monday.
Draguns also emphasized the unique aspects of Colorado and Summit County as assets toward fighting obesity.
“There are a lot of positives. Colorado has a lot of intrinsic resources to continue to make us healthier and healthier, as far as being more active and making more improved health choices,” she said. “As a state, there are over 600 miles of dedicated bike and walking paths and Summit County has 40 or 50 miles of dedicated bike paths just by itself. There’s unlimited access to hiking and walking and places to go and be active outdoors, so we have a huge advantage there.”
Rhonda Koehn, CEO at High Country Healthcare, said that while Summit County seems to be on the right track, there’s still a lot that can be done and there are many groups working behind the scenes with that very purpose. High Country Healthcare, for just one example, is collaborating with FIRC to put on a six-month-long community wellness program starting in May.
“I think we’re one of the healthiest counties in the state,” Koehn said. “We certainly have our issues, but in general we’re a pretty healthy population and we just need to keep coming at it in that direction. … We can always get better and I think generally we’re dong pretty good.”
Draguns said that she’s looking forward to gaining further ground in the community with PANTS and is pleased with the direction that the state is taking to improve health care.
“I’m proud to be a Coloradan,” she said. “Having the government recognize that we can do better and that we will do better, and to identify it as a priority, I think it is a wonderful thing.”