Each year, National Public Health Week provides a chance to celebrate and reflect on the outstanding service of public health workers and their contributions to keeping our communities safe and healthy. Public Health Week is April 3-9, and as we look to the future of public health in Southwest Colorado, now is an excellent time to re-orient toward this year’s theme: Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health.
Public health relies on the public to both inform our programs and services and to utilize the resources we provide in response to that input. There is no better example of involving the public and connecting with our communities’ culture in shaping our programs than the community health assessment. This assessment, conducted every five years, asks residents and community partners to identify their top health and wellness priorities. These priorities are then used to develop a public health improvement plan that helps inform programs and services for the next five years.
This year’s Public Health Week theme, Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health, is reflected in the community health assessment process, which was designed to gather input from as broad a cross-section of our communities as possible, with particular emphasis on vulnerable populations who may experience reduced access to care, resources and community programs. Through this effort, we have gathered input on surveys from more than 1,400 community residents in Archuleta and La Plata counties, as well as focus groups and key informant interviews that provide critical qualitative data. Taken together, the input we have received draws deeply on the culture and community of our residents and will help inform public health programs and services going forward as Archuleta and La Plata counties stand up their own individual health departments.
We are so grateful for your historic level of engagement on the assessment as a way to plan and come together toward addressing an issue starkly exposed by COVID-19: inequitable outcomes in public health. Put simply, public health equity seeks to correct differences in people’s health and environment based on social factors like race, ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, language and technology skills, income, and location. By identifying those factors and attempting to deliver resources and services through an equity lens that recognizes and honors community and culture, SJBPH aims to improve health and environmental outcomes for all who reside in our region.
At SJBPH, we are trained to focus on the health of the community while recognizing there is a direct relationship between population health and individual health. The last three years has reminded us with sharp clarity that prevention and community health are the best medicine. Rather than wait until people are sick or injured to begin treating them, public health aims to both improve our lives and save us money – by preventing illness and injury in the first place. These programs include maternal health and nutrition; early childhood development, safety, and healthy eating; developmental assets for children and teens to prevent substance use disorder or suicide; clinical care for priority populations including specialty care for children, cancer screenings, HIV/STI screenings and prevention; assistance accessing health insurance and healthcare with patient navigators and care coordinators; consumer protection services including safe restaurants and healthy households; and protecting our air and water quality.
Please join the whole public health community in centering and celebrating cultures in health so that we can build a more resilient and equitable future. Your dedicated local public health employees are working tirelessly to improve our communities’ health today and will be assisting our partners in doing so in the years to come.