Colorado Health Foundation learns of area’s strengths, concerns
Craig — When Karen McNeil-Miller, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation, came to Craig on Monday, she stressed that she was here to learn about the community.
“Let me remind you that you signed up for a listening tour, with me doing the listening,” she said, speaking at Colorado Northwestern Community College. “So that means you will be doing most of the talking.”
The Colorado Health Foundation is the third largest health foundation in the country, said Taryn Fort, the organization’s director of communications. According to literature from the Foundation, its methods of action include grant-making, public policy and advocacy, private sector engagement and other activities.
It’s also in the process of conducting a county-to-county listening tour across the state.
On Monday, McNeil-Miller asked the group in attendance about both assets and barriers with regard to health in the community. Community members lauded the work of health care professionals in the area, but they also pointed out obstacles to health — such as the difficulty of securing funding in a rural area.
About 20 people were in the group, many of whom work in health-related professions. As they spoke of assets, they noted, among other things, a high-quality group of medical providers, a strong nursing program at Colorado Northwestern Community College and hard-working community members. They also mentioned several organizations that approach health and well-being from different angles, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Craig and Mind Springs Health.
Jamie Daszkiewicz, director of Moffat County Human Service Volunteers, noted, too, that the area’s outdoor environment is conducive to health.
“We have a lot of outdoor activities here,” she said. “There are a lot of different things for people to do to get out and be active.”
Charity Neal, director of public health for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, also mentioned a growing spirit of cooperation among area agencies.
“I think we are on the verge of a community ready to change its mindset,” Neal said. “It’s no longer, ‘These people can work on economics and these people can work on education and these people work on health.’ We have to work as a community.”
The first barrier to health that people discussed was funding, and some in attendance noted that rural organizations face challenges in obtaining grants since they may not serve enough people to qualify.
Betsy Packer, coordinator of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program for Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, noted the problem of reaching seniors in rural areas. She mentioned the huge geographical space of the counties and the difficulty of obtaining wireless coverage in rural areas.
“Seniors are afraid of the Internet,” she added, noting the need some seniors have for other means of communication. Packer also said she only works with a small portion of Medicare recipients in the area.
“What about the rest of them?” she asked. “How do we get that information out?”
Others in attendance noted the difficulty of recruiting health professionals to the area, along with the challenge, for patients, of trekking long distances to see specialists.
Daszkiewicz said she’s received comments about the need for more youth mental health services, noting particularly the need for male mental health providers who accept Medicaid.
The Moffat County Human Service Volunteers, which Daszkiewicz directs, is a nonprofit organization designed “to provide transportation to and from health-related appointments originating in Moffat County,” according to the group’s website.
Domestic violence and child abuse also emerged as areas of concern, and Neal noted the problem of recurring incidents among families.
“While it’s true that we have some growing resources for youth, we do not have enough, nearly, for families,” she said.
Neal added that “Bridges Out of Poverty does a great job with the 12 families they are able to serve,” but she noted that the need extends far beyond those families.
As McNeil-Miller wrapped up the meeting, she asked those in attendance to continue the conversation.
“You all mentioned a lot of things in the last 35 to 40 minutes that are almost all too big to tackle all at once in a very fractured way,” she said. “But if you create the community will to say, ‘Here are the one or two things we want to work on,’ then we would love to come back and talk to you about how we can bring the resources we have to bear to help you move your agenda.”
McNeil-Miller mentioned money, expertise, legislative influence and other means of support that the Foundation may be able to offer.
She also noted, near the beginning of the meeting, that the Foundation is looking for ways to serve rural communities more effectively. McNeil-Miller has been president of the Foundation since September 2015.
“I do believe our current strategy is more suited to urban-suburban environments,” she said. “It’s important for us to develop a more articulated … rural agenda.”
After the meeting, McNeil-Miller said Foundation members would put results of the listening tour on its website and consider both statewide and locally based concerns. She noted, too, a common concern among all the counties the Foundation has visited.
“The whole notion of mental health-substance abuse has come up in every county we’ve been to,” she said. “It’s something that we’re really going to have to take a look at.”
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