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The Power of Local

By Doug McCarthy, Healthcare Advocate, Local First

I was recently asked what I love about La Plata County. In addition to the amazing outdoor recreation opportunities we enjoy, I am delighted to live in a community that values its quality of life and comes together to solve local problems. Sociologists refer to a spirit of volunteerism and civic engagement as social capital. Research that I conducted for the Commonwealth Fund shows how communities can both build up and draw upon their social capital to improve local health care, among other social goods.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging all around, it was heartening to see how our community rose to the occasion on many fronts. Early in the pandemic, for example, hundreds of residents volunteered their time to staff a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic. This initiative grew from a tradition of volunteerism that staged annual Health Fairs where medical professionals and lay people offer their time to help neighbors get low-cost testing to better understand their health needs.

Local First was pleased to play a role in marshaling community support for our overstretched local healthcare workforce during the pandemic. The “Feed the Frontlines” program paid local restaurants the cost of food and labor to provide 4,000 meals to healthcare workers while helping restaurants retain their employees in challenging times. This program was made possible through collaboration with Durango Land & Homes, In the Weeds, the Ore House, Lucky Services and generous donors.

Sometimes improving healthcare means sharing information so people can make informed decisions. With this in mind, local physicians created a “CoronaDoc” program under the auspices of San Juan Basin Public Health to help educate the public about COVID-19.

The doctors spoke with employees of local businesses about how to reduce the spread of the virus and the role of vaccinations. Their effort helped employers meet the challenge of staying open while respecting public health orders.

The COVID-19 pandemic also reminded us of how access to high-quality healthcare is key to both the health and economic vitality of rural communities like ours. In 2018, local business owners asked Local First to help support them as they struggled to afford healthcare for themselves and their employees. Local First took on this challenge with the understanding that our local, independent healthcare practitioners are also local businesses that contribute in important ways to our local economy.

Local First recently announced that nonprofit, Colorado-based health insurer Denver Health Medical Plan will offer its Elevate Health Plans in Southwest Colorado in 2024 in partnership with Peak Health Alliance.

Research shows that market competition helps lower costs while also offering consumers greater choice. Meanwhile, we are building social capital by collaborating with others in the community to strengthen our local healthcare capacity, particularly to address behavioral healthcare needs.

Other social conditions such as stable housing and access to nutritious food are equally important to health. Several local businesses recently committed to help address such basic needs by creating the 1% La Plata Impact Fund, administered by Local First Foundation. The Impact Fund contributed to a pool of funds that made it possible for residents to purchase Westside Mobile Home Park. By giving a portion of their revenues to support local self-reliance, local businesses are demonstrating how our community cares and how they can contribute to solving social problems that affect us all.

The time is now for engagement and change. There are so many ways to get involved. We invite you to join our growing localist movement today and support a thriving La Plata County. Learn more by visiting local-first.org/localist

Doug McCarthy is Healthcare Advocate for Local First in Durango. Contact them at doug@local-first.org.