By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Hill County Health Department is seeking public input about environmental health issues as part of a broader assessment of the community's health concerns and needs.
The department is distributing a short survey to business owners and managers to gather information on a variety of issues. A similar survey will be given to leaders of civic organizations in the near future, said Karen Toner, a registered nurse with the Health Department.
"There's questions on air and water pollution, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, food inspections, access to adequate health care, and West Nile virus," she said. "People can rate their concerns based on what they feel is important."
Once the results are gathered, the Health Department can focus its efforts on those issues that are a priority to the community, Toner said. The results will sent in a report to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services as part of a nationwide environmental health assessment administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.
Eleven counties in Montana are participating in the environmental health assessment, according to a press release from the Hill County Health Department.
The results will also likely be included in a local health assessment being conducted by the Hill County Health Consortium, Toner said.
The consortium is spearheading a massive collaborative effort to identify needs within the community and people who may benefit from a proposed community health center. Team members include people from the medical community, local leaders, senior citizens, youths, educators and parents.
According to an informational packet provided by the County Health Department, the goal of the community health center would be to "move Hill County toward a system of care in which every child and adult has access to high quality care in an atmosphere that preserves the dignity of the person being served, as well as the fiscal integrity of the organizations and individuals involved in health service and delivery."
The survey Toner sent to local business owners and managers is one of several surveys that have been distributed by the Health Department recently. During a health fair last month at Holiday Village Shopping Center, more than 200 people participated in another survey that queried citizens on a broader array of health issues, Toner said.
"I feel like at the health fair, the group of people we talked to are middle class, mall-shopping, health care-concerned people," she said. "I thought we would get a larger group of people from all over the county than we did, which is why we're going to head out onto the streets now and try to pick up the people we missed."
To gather more comprehensive data about peoples' environmental health concerns, the environmental health assessment team sent a survey to agricultural producers, and also distributed the one to local business owners and managers.
MSU-N student Carley Robertson will meet with the leaders of civic organizations and distribute another environmental health survey to those people, Toner said. Still more people may be surveyed over the telephone, she added.
"I really want to make sure that every Hill County resident has an opportunity to speak to the Health Department about health concerns," she said. "Once the opinions are in, we prioritize them based on the ones that the citizens cite most frequently. Then we'll begin working on those priorities with research once we know where to focus."
The surveys collected at the health fair are being compiled by Montana State University-Northern students in a class taught by Janet Tretheway, Toner said. Those results should be available shortly, and the surveys sent to agricultural producers have begun to trickle in.
"I would say, the biggest issue so far is water - the drinking water, quality and quantity both," she said. "The second one is pesticide and herbicide use."
Toner encouraged anyone with health concerns to visit the Health Department to fill out a survey and to attend a pair of meetings next month. On March 5, the Hill County Health Consortium will gather in the community room at the Holiday Village Shopping Center at 3 p.m. Dr. Predrag Latkovich, a pathologist for Northern Montana Health Care, will speak during the meeting.
The environmental health assessment team will host a focus group on March 17 at 7 p.m. in the Timmons Room in the basement of the Hill County Courthouse.