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Embracing change for a healthier future

Shere Byrd

As San Juan Basin Public Health prepares to permanently close its doors on Dec. 31, our community is presented with an opportunity to reflect with gratitude on past efforts and with optimism for the renewed commitment to our collective health and well-being presented by the start of Archuleta and La Plata’s individual county public health departments.

As the agency bids farewell, its historical contributions stand as a testament to the value of public health and its staff’s unwavering dedication to the well-being of Southwest Colorado. As a community, I encourage all to support Archuleta and La Plata counties as they tread uncharted waters for our ultimate benefit. From the careful decision-making and countless hours spent on the transition between public health departments, we know that the passion and dedication of the new public health departments’ staff and boards mirror what the community expects and deserves.

Looking ahead, we will benefit from rebuilding a public health scaffolding. It is my hope that these new public health departments will be free from the constraints of politics – two public health departments guided by independent boards of health, data-driven policy, the pursuit of health equity and the best interests of our specific communities.

SJBPH, with a legacy spanning 75 years, has been a pillar of public health in Southwest Colorado, leaving an indelible mark on the community. Its closure at the end of 2023 punctuates the end of an era. Throughout its history, SJBPH has been instrumental in both providing consistent services to vulnerable and underserved community members and responding to public health crises. Programs like Women, Infants and Children, Nurse Family Partnership, suicide prevention, environmental health, tobacco prevention and health insurance literacy have a proven track record, some over multiple generations of families, of equitably improving health outcomes and have become part of the fabric of our communities. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency stood at the forefront, orchestrating testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts. Their guidance and support were vital in navigating the complexities of this once-in-a-century event. During the 416 Fire, SJBPH was pivotal in disseminating critical information and providing assistance to those directly affected. Their response to the Gold King Mine spill showcased commitment to addressing environmental and health challenges, offering guidance, monitoring the data and advocating for long-term solutions.

I’d like to acknowledge the dedication and resilience of SJBPH’s staff members throughout the previous 75 years. The invaluable contributions of each past and present staff member to the improvement of public health outcomes in our region deserve our deepest appreciation and gratitude. The leadership of former Executive Director Liane Jollon and her team resulted in a fiscally responsible, well-funded, progressive organization that offered more public health programs over her tenure than ever before, and with service that ranks among the best rural public health departments in the country. And let’s not forget the oft-overlooked volunteer SJBPH Board of Health members, who spent countless hours guiding the agency and making the sometimes difficult decisions that benefit the health of our families, communities and environment.

While the transition from regional to county health departments has not been devoid of challenges, it is crucial to maintain a positive outlook and consider the long-term benefits of individualized public health plans and policies for each county. I hope we seize this opportunity for growth and progress and allow our shared commitment to the health and well-being of our community to persist through the upcoming transition and beyond.

Thank you all for your support of public health over the last 75 years. Let us move forward together to create a healthier and more resilient future for everyone.

Shere Byrd is president of SJBPH Board of Health.