A group prioritizing action to improve health in Hill County set plans in three areas Thursday, narrowing the field to focus on alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and mental health after a six-hour meeting at Northern Montana Hospital.
The effort has been spearheaded by Christen Obresley of Northern Montana Health Care, Bullhook Community Health Center Executive Director Cindy Smith and Hill County Public Health Director Danielle Golie.
A requirement of the the Affordable Care Act is for some entities to create county health assessments and health improvement plans.
Obresley and Smith said the 2013 Hill County Health Assessment, done as part of the assessments for the region covered by Benefis Hospital in Great Falls, is a followup of assessments already done in Hill County.
A county health consortium was created early last decade — its first work led to the creation of Bullhook Community Health Center — and it continues to work on improving health in the county.
“We were kind of ahead of the ball,” Obresley said.
The Hill County Early Childhood Investment Team also did an assessment in 2012, looking specifically at issues facing young children in Hill County.
Golie listed some actions already being taken as a result of the consortium’s health improvement plan written in 2011, including the Open Gym group working to promote “using the community as a gymnasium” to fight obesity, providing information to community members and visitors about what health care resources are available, and working to provide information to reduce unsafe sex — which is linked to high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and sexual violence in the county.
Thursday, the group — some 30 people representing a variety of health care, govermental and other organizations attended the meeting — spent the first five or so hours reviewing the 2012 and 2013 assessments, then narrowing local concerns and issues to items that the group could act on and measure the results.
The final vote brought dealing with alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and mental health issues to the top of the list, followed by nutrition.
With the consensus of the group, moderator Lisa O’Neil, Montana State University-Northern nursing instructor, said they would forward the nutrition issue to the Open Gym group that developed as a result of the 2011 health improvement plan. That would leave the planning group free to focus on the top three topics, she said.
The people at the meeting then split into three groups to start developing specific objectives regarding those three priorities, and set strategies — and measurements — for meeting those goals.
A common thread in the three groups was to try to hook up with other groups already working on those issues in the community, and to find — locally and nationally — proven strategies already in use.
Part of the next step is to develop focus groups to continue developing, and implementing, the strategies.
People interested in working on those focus groups, or who want more information, can contact Golie, Smith or Obresley.
Smith said getting the rest of Hill County involved in planning the strategies, and implementing them, is crucial.
“We can’t all do it by ourselves,” she said. “We need the rest of the community, too.”