Healthy behaviors focused on for Vermilion County | News

It can take years to reach health care goals in Vermilion County, with the area seeing victories along the way such as with lower child poverty, 24 percent instead of 30, and lower teen pregnancies, with the county seeing single digits now of 9.8 percent when at one time it was about 24 percent.

Even more so with the COVID-19 pandemic, health care officials realize how important access to care and healthy behaviors are.

Health care, social service, law enforcement and emergency responders, faith-based organizations, school, business and other officials gathered at Danville Area Community College’s Bremer Conference Center Tuesday for a Community Health Assessment stakeholders meeting. They reviewed current Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Needs (IPLAN) goals, heard from priority workgroups, reviewed a recent community assessment survey and community data, and selected the top four priorities for the next three-year period to focus on.

Normally this collaborative meeting would have taken place next year, after the 2020 meeting, but it was bumped up a year to keep OSF HealthCare’s hospitals on the same calendar.

Starting about seven years ago, the Vermilion County Health Department and Carle and OSF hospitals moved from independently conducting the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and Community Health Plan to a collaborative movement. Carle Hoopeston Regional Health Center, OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center, the United Way of Danville Area and Vermilion County Health Department formed an Executive Committee to conduct the assessment and health plan to fulfill the requirements for certification.

The IPLAN is a Community Health Assessment and Planning process that is conducted every five years by local health jurisdictions in Illinois. In 2020, the Vermilion County Health Department moved to a three-year plan to match the local hospitals and mental health’s three-year plans . The essential elements of the IPLAN are: an organizational capacity assessment; a community health needs assessment; and a community health plan, focusing on a minimum of three priority health problems, according to the health department.

On Tuesday, the group selected to move forward with four priorities and workgroups for the next three years: behavioral health, anti-violence, income/poverty and healthy behavior.

Melissa Rome, emergency planning and response coordinator and community liaison with the health department, and who will be leaving her position this week after almost 22 years with the health department for a new private company health consultant position, said about 200 people were invited to the stakeholders meeting including local and state government officials to talk about about issues facing the county.

In the past, priorities have been substance abuse, mental health, teen pregnancy, obesity and violence. Some have been dropped or combined through the years, Rome said.

The new priority of healthy behavior will cover healthy eating, increased health screenings and basic health care for children and adults.

“I think it’s going to be a really good mix,” Rome said of the priorities.

The group heard from Tara Wright about the anti-violence workgroup which looks at issues such as gun and youth violence, elder abuse, sexual violence and talking with students; Niah Hamilton about income/poverty issues, food insecurity going down to 14 percent but higher than the state and surrounding area (4 percent go hungry locally 1-5 days per week), increasing the local high school graduation rate, how to get people to live here and stay here, and job issues with less population and fewer in the workforce population; Coroner Jane McFadden about overdoses and suicides; and Danville Police Chief Chris Yates about local crime statistics and seeing fewer homicides and robberies but more sexual assaults and thefts.

In other discussions, dental care access, with people not having insurance and unable to afford a co-pay, is another big issue.

Local public transportation for access to care and jobs also likely will be changing due to a loss of $1 million in federal funding because of local population loss.

In looking at health data, heart disease, cancer and COVID-19 have been the leading causes of death locally.

Grants received locally have been used for youth mental health first aid training, and adult training, with more than 4,000 people trained, according to Vermilion County Mental Health 708 Board Director Jim Russell.

He said one of the issues is that people don’t know where to go when they need help.

A mental health, counseling and other local services list can be found at: https://www.vercounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Vermilion-County-Resource-List-Final-Edit-3-11 -2022.pdf.

Russell said mental health questions are now asked at doctor visits.

In July, the Illinois Department of Human Services-Division of Mental Health plans to operationalize “988” as a three-digit phone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.

“I think the idea is fantastic,” Russell said. “It’s going to be a beautiful system if it works the way it’s intended to.”

Rome said the county saw substance abuse and other issues prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some issues have gotten worse.

The group discussed how some people are still skittish to go to a doctor, or seek counseling, due to the stigma.

Rome said the pandemic showed how people need people.

“You saw a lot of depression,” she said. “Our kiddos are going to be needing a little extra help.”

There was isolation and loss. Many children lost a caregiver, she said.

Looking at the past, the county has had high unhealthy risk factors, such as not exercising, a 43 percent obesity rate, not eating healthy or being able to afford to eat healthy, high cholesterol and blood pressure, not getting medications, and poverty rates which increased chances of having severe COVID-19. Residents didn’t have access to health care, housing or food in some cases, where they couldn’t maintain healthy behaviors, Rome said.

The county’s access to exercise opportunities decreased, she said, adding too that more than 53 percent have an underlying health condition.

“We’re going to continue to learn so much from COVID in the next decade,” she added, about what worked and didn’t work and how many low-income citizens were more likely to succumb to COVID. The county has seen almost 300 COVID-19 related deaths in the last two years.

The workgroups will continue to meet monthly. Those interested in joining a workgroup can contact the health department.

Rome said there are a lot of passionate community members who care and are working for the betterment of the community.

A final health survey document will also be compiled by August.

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