Suicide, affordable housing and substance abuse are the top three health concerns for residents in La Plata and Archuleta counties, a public health survey found.
San Juan Basin Public Health surveyed more than 1,000 residents last year to determine the top health needs in the community. The data were used to help create a new five-year plan to improve health in the area, said Kristin Pulatie, director of assessment and planning at the department.
“What this tells us is people really, really understand this concept we call ‘social determinants of health.’ It means it’s not just your genetics or what’s happening with your health, but all the things in the community around you that dictate whether or not you can be healthy,” she said.
For example, residents without stable housing often have trouble seeking medical care, eating healthful meals and taking medications, said Brigid Korce, program development director for Housing Solutions for the Southwest.
“Anybody living with a mental health condition really needs to have that safety and stability of a home,” she said.
Mercy Regional Medical Center also sees behavioral health, unstable housing and social factors as more pressing issues that affect health, said Dr. Bill Plauth, chief medical officer at the hospital.
“I would see all of those as being reasonable priorities that, as a community, we can address together,” he said.
In recent years, patients with behavioral health and substance abuse problems have become more disruptive, violent and harder to treat, he said.
More in-patient hospitals and out-patient facilities are needed in the region and across the state to help meet the needs, he said. The availability of out-patient services to keep a crisis from occurring is important, he said.
In its new five-year plan, San Juan Basin Public Health identified behavioral health, environmental health and social determinants of health as priority areas to work on over the next five years.
The agency does not build housing or provide behavioral health services. But the agency could help address those needs in other ways.
For example, identifying social determinants of health as a priority could allow the health department to apply for grant funding, Pulatie said. The agency could also help other groups apply for funding.
Reducing suicide and improving behavioral health are not a traditional focus for public health, but they are pressing needs in the community, said Mary Dengler-Frey, regional health connector for the Southwestern Colorado Area Health Education Center.
San Juan Basin Public Health has an awareness campaign to encourage residents to discuss mental health and a collaborative group working on reducing suicide rates.
Encouraging residents to talk about their mental health care and seek services remains a challenge. Some residents may not seek care because they see it as a sign of weakness, she said.
The health department has a variety of programs to monitor environmental health in the community by inspecting and regulating restaurants, child care facilities, septic systems, among others duties.
The agency could expand its environmental health work by installing outdoor air-quality monitors and providing more public swimming pool monitoring, among other new programs, said Brian Devine, water and air-quality program manager. Most outdoor air-quality monitoring in the area does not provide real-time publicly available data, he said.