Improving health is a process for communities, individuals

By Joe Theine

San Juan Basin Health Department

Where does one start in the seemingly gargantuan goal of improving a community’s health? It is not much different from a personal journey to improve health. Both take some assessing, planning, prioritizing and action. They take time and commitment. They often involve collaboration. And they can feel overwhelming at first before breaking it down into doable steps.

When we want to improve our personal health, we often begin with some type of assessment. It can be a visit to the doctor where blood pressure, temperature, heart and lungs are checked and possibly a blood test or other tests are conducted. This information is all used to determine our level of health and if there are areas for improvement or better management.

You may have more than one area to improve with only resources to work on one. Medical staff members may offer suggestions for improving your future health based on research and experience. Armed with all this information, you then prioritize what areas of health you want to improve, what actions you will take and identify who might help. It may involve exercise, nutrition, medications, lifestyle changes, further education or other interventions.

Improving the health of a community takes a similar path. It usually begins with an assessment as well. Health indicators such as the rate of diabetes in particular populations, cavity rates among children and others provide insight into the health of the population as a whole.

With an assessment in hand, different evidence-based interventions can be considered in determining which would work best in our community and which have the highest likelihood of changing health outcomes. A health outcome, for example, could be a decline in rates of heart disease, obesity, smoking or an increase in women getting breast cancer screenings. Equipped with results of the assessment and most effective possible interventions, the community can prioritize what areas to focus on improving and action steps that can be taken.

In fact, that is where San Juan Basin Health is currently. We recently completed a Community Health and Capacity Assessment for La Plata and Archuleta counties. Mercy Regional Medical Center and Pagosa Springs Medical Center partnered with us on this crucial first step. The assessment is also a component in a statewide public health effort to improve health. San Juan Basin Health is developing a Public Health Improvement Plan. This plan will serve as a guide in helping us, in collaboration with others, target one to two health issues to focus on improving. This is in addition to continuing to provide our public health care services. Our region now has a Community Health Assessment that frames health issues facing La Plata and Archuleta counties. There are many ways healthcare groups, governmental entities and community agencies can also utilize this information as a framework and opportunity to improve health in our communities.

Improving ones’ own personal health and the health of a community are dynamic processes. To join us in this journey and learn more about your Community Health Assessment, visit

Joe Theine is director of the San Juan Basin Health Department.