Over the past few months, Healthy Yolo, a program started by the Yolo County Health Department to get the community more involved in addressing public health concerns, conducted four community assessments.
The assessments were done in efforts to understand the greatest public health needs of Yolo County. They include the Community Themes and Strengths Assessment, the Community Health Status Assessment, the Local Public Health Assessment, and most recently, the Forces of Change Assessment.
Mark Harlan, coordinator of the Yolo County Health Program, set up and facilitated the two community meetings where the four assessments were conducted. The project kickoff was July 14, 2013.
“It’s a community-driven project to improve the health and well-being of Yolo County residents. Forces of Change identifies those issues that may affect the project … we wanted to be aware of things to come so that we wouldn’t be blindsided, so that we could avoid pitfalls,” Harlan said.
The assessments were conducted through work sessions, surveys and different community outreach. According to Harlan, the most recent work session took place Jan. 30 for the Forces of Change assessments. Participants were non-paid volunteer members of the community, and the assessment itself was released via a press release on Feb. 14.
The next phase of the project will be to compile the four assessments into one community health assessment. What’s needed most is community-wide input and involvement to identify strategies for addressing the key health concerns.
“We’ll be going out to different parts of Yolo County. We’ll be talking to City Council members … We’ll share the data and determine which health issues they feel they should be addressed within their region and also look at goals and strategies and address action plans,” Harlan said.
Yolo County Health Officer Constance Caldwell, M.D., said in an email that the assessments are a positive step for the communities in the county.
“The assessments should give us a both a better idea of what our communities’ greatest strengths and needs are, and what health issues our residents are most concerned about. This information will be able to guide the focus of public health efforts going forward,” Caldwell said.
The assessments address health issues such as the “automobile-centric culture,” the effect of low-nutrient processed foods and the drought’s effect on agriculture, among others. Harlan believes it is important for community members to speak out about what health concerns are more pressing in their community.
“I would like people to take a look and to tell me and tell the county what those pressing issues are … We’ll be having a calendar of events on our website sending out some info advertising where the community forum will be and when people can go to these community events. They can look online and read reports. We’ll have a forum where people can write comments on the document,” Harlan said.
The Community Health Assessment will be available April 2014 along with the online forum and the calendar of community outreach events.
Participants in the work sessions believe these assessments are necessary to start tackling huge health care disparities in communities in Yolo County. Hermenegildo Varela, community health educator for Woodland Healthcare, sees the assessments as an opportunity for addressing health care concerns such as obesity, diabetes, transportation and insurance.
“With the assessments, not only the county, but [also] the clinics will be aware of the needs [of the community] and hopefully they will make the health services more accessible,” Varela said.
He adds, one of the biggest problems is transportation to health care facilities in Woodland from Knights Landing, a rural community near Woodland. According to the Knights Landing Clinic’s website, before its recent opening, the community had lost its migrant clinic in 2008 and had no close source of medical care. This was a problem because individuals had to travel 20 minutes to Woodland to see a physician, which is a challenge due to limited bus hours and lack of access to other modes of transportation.
“Another big problem is about health insurance. With the health reform, more people can have insurance but there’s still a large part of the community that [doesn’t] have documentation so we still have a big problem,” Varela said.
Varela believes the health assessments will allow community members to contribute their hopes for how to improve their individual communities throughout Yolo County.
“The assessments are very important. People that live in communities know what their needs are … it’ll be important to get input to know what they need and what they want,” Varela said.
Students see community health assessments as a step in the right direction. Maya Rhine, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, is a member of the ASUCD Student Health and Wellness Committee along with a non-ASUCD affiliated committee called the Student Mental Health Advisory Committee.
As a member of these committees Rhine believes it is important to be analyzing community health issues because without it, change cannot come about. Her committees have made strides in the past year to analyze and address student health.
“Sometimes what is effecting students’ health the most is not necessarily apparent or it might have a stigma associated with it; such is the case with mental health issues. By getting the conversation started, more issues become apparent,” Rhine said.
Ultimately, getting the conversation started is what will bring about change. Harlan believes that the health assessments will invite community members to get informed and in turn inform officials about what they want changed.
“One of the factors in improving the health of all in Yolo County is that the community has to be a part of it. I think its important that they’re given the opportunity to voice their opinion,” Harlan said.