Lewis County Public Health & Social Services (PHSS) is hoping to create a Community Health Improvement Plan and area residents are being asked to help by rating their health concerns both locally and personally.
Part of a statewide trend, a Community Health Improvement Plan, or CHIP, is intended to identify those with health needs and connect them with local organizations who can meet those needs, according to PHSS Community Services Manager John Abplanalp.
“Right now we’re in an assessment process,” said Abplanalp, stating officials are hoping Lewis County residents will weigh in through feedback and surveys and help determine what the priorities of a CHIP should be. “An Improvement Plan has to be tailored to Lewis County.”
Abplanalp said his office is already aware of many health challenges in the area, identified in a recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and current questionnaires are primarily seeking to clarify why such challenges exist.
In the study, the results of which are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org, Lewis County is ranked against the 39 counties in Washington and was largely low-to-middle of the pack in concerns such as health behaviors (31), clinical care (28), quality of life (21) and socio-economic factors (30), though the county received an above-average ranking of 13 for physical environment.
Abplanalp said, while this data is important, it does not necessarily indicate a lack of quality health resources but may also indicate an under-utilization of resources, and said feedback from residents can “give context” and help determine which causes are most significant.
The surveys, which are available at lewiscountywa.gov between now and April 13, ask residents to rate how they feel about their overall quality of life, health care access, environment (both natural and man-made), economic opportunities and levels of community support, among other questions. They are also asked to identify “risky behaviors” they feel contribute largely to local health problems, such as substance abuse, unsafe driving, poor diet and inactivity.
No personal information, such as specific medical conditions or identifying information, is solicited during the survey, though they do ask for zip code and whether or not you live within city limits to help in further breaking down the data.
Patricia Coloma, a community health assessor for the Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department assisting Lewis County with their CHIP, said geographical information is important because, unless officials know which communities are being represented and to what degree, it will be difficult to create a CHIP able to serve those communities.
“Centralia and Chehalis look so different than when you talk about Winlock and Pe Ell,” she said, “so we wanted to make sure to hear their voices, also, so it wasn’t just decisions and information coming from the bigger communities.”
Coloma also said residents should remember, both when taking the survey and in their day-to-day lives, a person’s health involves a lot more than whether or not they are physically ill at the time.
“Health is where you live, where you eat, where you play, where you pray,” she said. “All of those have an impact on your health.”
Once they surveys are complete, Abplanalp said the county will review the feedback and identify the priorities a CHIP should address, stating his office will turn again to residents for input on how such priorities should be ranked.
At the same time, he said Lewis County will be seeking out community groups to act as partners in the CHIP and provide resources to help address the county’s health priorities. Some groups, such as local hospitals, United Way of Lewis County and CHOICE Regional Health Network, have already offered themselves as resources, and Abplanalp said his office is seeking others such as churches, granges and different clubs who are currently serving community health needs.
“We want to get as many entities involved as possible,” he said, adding Lewis County intends to serve as a hands-off coordinator once the partner groups are in place, allowing them to independently work from the CHIP.
Plans are currently in place to have a list of potential health priorities published by June and a CHIP in place by January. Coloma said a completed CHIP would not act as a rigid, strict code for health improvement, but would be frequently updated and re-evaluated as residents, health concerns and partners change.
“[A CHIP] is not a government document that should be sitting in a drawer,” she said. “It’s going to be a working, living document.”
To learn more about Lewis County’s efforts to establish a CHIP, as well as how to provide feedback if you do not have internet access, contact Abplanalp at (360) 740-2787. Information regarding the CHIP survey can also be found at crhn.org, mortongeneral.org, lewiscountyuw.com, and vvhc.org, or at local Timberland Library locations such as their branch in Winlock.