This year’s theme for National Public Heath Week occurring April 1st through 5th is: Creating the Healthiest Nation: For Science. For Action. For Health.  San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) is excited to celebrate with events in Durango and Pagosa Springs, focused on the release of the agency’s Public Health Improvement Plan (PHIP). We have customized the theme of our events to better represent our focus: Public Health Planning: Using Science and Action to Improve Health.

In creating its PHIP, SJBPH staff collected information from four sources: feedback from the community through a survey on health priorities, data from national, state, and regional sources about health in Archuleta and La Plata counties, staff expertise about public health programs and opportunities, and core service requirements as dictated by the Colorado Public Health Act of 2008. The PHIP will be used for the next five years to assess progress on current programs and initiatives, develop new programs to meet the evolving needs of the communities we serve, support funding applications – both internally and those of our partners, and demonstrate accountability at the state, regional, and local level.

The release of SJBPH’s PHIP is a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of public health and the impact it can have on the lives of individuals in the communities we serve.  SJBPH believes that everyone deserves to live a long and healthy life and live in a safe environment. A strong public health system is required to achieve this goal, and the agency’s 2019-2023 PHIP will help guide us in this process.

Receiving feedback from community members through the Community Health Assessment survey confirmed what the agency believes regarding health: health starts where we live, learn, work and play, and many of the factors contributing to health occur outside of a doctor’s office. The top five concerns prioritized by local community members were issues that would be considered social rather than medical: suicide, affordable housing, substance abuse, poverty, and economic opportunity.

So how will SJBPH’s PHIP address some of these issues? While strategies and activities are still being developed, some examples of steps to take might include increased work with non-traditional partners such as housing organizations to work on affordability issues, or veterans groups to collaborate on suicide prevention. Additionally, SJBPH can train our employees on the importance of asking about barriers to health that clients face, and innovating to address these. An example of this might be to partner with local libraries so that WIC clients can use library computers to complete their nutrition education requirements, to overcome transportation and technology barriers.

SJBPH’s PHIP is organized into seven program areas with three of these, Behavioral Health (mental health and substance abuse), Social Determinants of Health (the social factors that affect health), and environmental health, designated as “high priority”.  Additionally, SJBPH staff will apply three overarching goals to the work in all program areas: Community Resilience, Organizational Capacity, and Public Health Innovation. Applying these goals means the organization will advance the health of the communities we serve, enhance the capabilities of SJBPH, and contribute to the improvement of the public health system.

The breadth of the work proposed in the PHIP is comprehensive and therefore challenging to cover in this brief column. SJBPH invites all community members to its National Public Health Week events to learn more about the plan and to celebrate the successes of public health in its work to help all community members reach their highest potential for health.

Join us at the drop-in event in Durango on Tuesday April 2nd from 4:30-6pm at the Community Recreation Center, with a presentation on the PHIP at 5 pm.  Appetizers will be served. For those in Archuleta County, the drop-in event is on Wednesday, April 3rd from 11:30am-1pm at the Ross Aragon Center, with a presentation on the PHIP at noon, with lunch provided. Both events will have interactive activities for children and adults, and SJBPH resources and staff available to share information on the agency and its services.

SJBPH is taking the PHIP “on the road” and will be making presentations throughout the communities we serve, as well as by request to groups and organizations. Please reach out to us at communications@sjbpublichealth.org to find out more.

Claire Ninde is the Director of Communications at San Juan Basin Public Health