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Priorities developed for healthy community

BY Sarah smith Too much of Hubbard County’s population is made up of obese, poor heavy drinkers. But public health officials have no thought about giving up and throwing in the towel. Instead, they’re declaring war. In January a Community Benefit team met to identify and prioritize community health needs based on a 2012 assessment that didn’t rate the county very kindly. The survey encompassed online comments, community focus groups and questionnaires. The team identified 35 health needs including aging, unemployment, underinsured, heavy drinking and drug use, diabetes, cancer, suicides, mental health issues, teasing and bullying, just to name a few. But it probably was the clarion call health officials needed. And the $64,000 question is how closely poverty is related to poor health. The answer is too closely. Community health priorities The team identified five issues, including: n Community wellness n Substance and chemical dependency n Economic factors to influence wellness n Mental health n Specialized health services. “Disease reduction and health promotion” are the primary goals. Tuesday Hubbard County’s public health coordinator presented an overview of needs. “The number one problem is income related, poverty issues,” said Raeann Mayer. Who’s out there Hubbard County is part of a four-county consortium called the North Country Community Health Services Agency, one of 52 community health boards. These boards are legally responsible for protecting citizens’ health regardless of those patients’ ability to pay. North Country includes Clearwater, Beltrami and Lake of the Woods counties. Community health boards have been around since the 1970s. North Country gets around $380,000 in funding, $200,000 of which is federal dollars. Those funds are committed to June 2013, said administrator Bonnie Engen. After sequestration settles in, there’s a giant unknown ahead. Surviving sequestration, Obamacare But as states begin forming insurance co-ops under the Affordable Care Act, there has been an assumption all along that community health centers, via public health dollars, are the best way to deliver quality health services at an affordable rate. “Community health centers emphasize coordinated primary and preventive services or a medical home that promotes reductions in health disparities for low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, rural communities, and other underserved populations,” said the government’s own website. The Affordable Care Act established the Community Health Center fund that provides $11 billion over a 5-year period for the operation, expansion, and construction of health centers throughout the Nation. $9.5 billion is targeted to: n Support ongoing health center operations. nCreate new health center sites in medically underserved areas. nExpand preventive and primary health care services, including oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and/or enabling services, at existing health center sites. $1.5 billion will support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers nationwide. Although the Hubbard County region doesn’t have a community health center, the theory is that St. Joseph’s Area Health Center has contracted with Hubbard County to provide those services, Mayer said. In the North Country region, dollars are apportioned on a population basis, Engen told the county board, with Hubbard County getting about one-fourth of the pie. “Getting families started right,” especially poor families, is a key public health goal, she added. The health board’s responsibilities are enormous, not just regulating public health threats, but controlling the lesser known threats such as animal control, unwholesome substances, waste regulation, water regulation, health nuisances, curfew and offensive trades. Mayer said locally, promoting the county and city parks and recreation areas are a good start to healthy living. And tackling poverty, affordable health care, substance abuse and poor lifestyle choices are constant priorities.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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