Obesity one of health agency’s top challenges

Access to health care also will get attention

The No. 1 challenge for the San Juan Basin Health Department during the next five years will be improving access to health care and battling obesity in La Plata and Archuleta counties.

Fifty-five people – health-care professionals and interested community members – who have been studying health issues for the last year, decided last week that obesity is a higher priority than substance abuse, mental health, clean air and water or oral health.

Improved access has been a given since the process began – a goal so obvious that it drew a bye.

In response to the mandate, the health department will devise strategies and build partnerships to tackle the issues. The work must satisfy requirements of 2008 legislation and a 2011 state Board of Health order that county health departments update their public-health improvement plan every five years.

The revised plan needs to be approved by the health department board and sent to the state by the end of 2013.

Groups met Thursday in Durango and Pagosa Springs to discuss priorities. Points based on individual preferences were totaled to rate the five options.

“We’re going to concentrate on two issues because other health departments have found that addressing many needs stretches resources and dilutes impact,” health department Executive Director Joe Theine said in Durango. “But we aren’t going to stop what we’re doing.”

The last statement referred to such established health programs covering communicable diseases, environmental health and education about lifestyle choices.

In addressing obesity, the health department will balance approaches that experts recommend with what works in Southwest Colorado, Theine said.

“We want what works for the community and what works for us (the health department),” Theine said.

Molly Gutilla, a doctoral candidate in public health at the University of Colorado, coordinated discussions. She has an internship at the health department.

The health summit Thursday arrived where it was through a series of meetings that began a year ago. Anyone interested was welcome to help determine what health issues are important in La Plata and Archuleta counties, which are served by San Juan Basin Health Department.

Scores of participants kicked around scores of suggestions, winnowed them to 11 and then to the five put on the table Thursday.

At the meetings in Durango and Pagosa Springs, attendees were given five cards each, with each card designated with one of the five health concerns. They had to grade the options with a number from 5 (most important) to 1 (least important).

The combined tallies showed obesity (188), mental health (173), substance abuse (131), clean air and water (98) and oral health (83).

Choosing a top priority was difficult because all options are worthwhile, Gutilla said. But ranking of topics was the only way to reach a consensus, she said.

daler@durangoherald.com

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