Guest Columnist

Charting a healthier future for Linn County

Equipment is attached to the walls of a health examination room in Cedar Rapids. (Stephen Mally/Gazette Archives)
Equipment is attached to the walls of a health examination room in Cedar Rapids. (Stephen Mally/Gazette Archives)

Chances are, when your thoughts turn to health, you think about it in a very personal way: taking prescribed medications, talking with your doctor, committing to exercise and a healthy diet, avoiding harmful habits, or brushing and flossing your teeth.

Hopefully, you have teamed up with health care professionals who can treat your ailments and offer advice to protect yourself and your family from harm or injury. Health in such a setting is indeed personal.

Public health, conversely, is focused on the larger community. We work to improve things such as food safety and air quality, and to increase opportunities for healthy life choices such as childhood immunizations. Instead of viewing health on an individual level, our perspective is broad.

Experience, here and throughout the globe, has proved these perspectives on health are intertwined and dependent on each other. In order to make headway toward our shared vision of a healthy community, we need to come together and work together.

I’m proud to announce this spirit of collaboration remains active in Linn County, to the benefit of us all.

During the past two years, Together! Healthy Linn, a multifaceted assembly led by Linn County Public Health, has worked diligently to develop a health improvement plan that identifies and aims to address the top three county health concerns.

The Community Health Improvement Plan is the culmination of this lengthy, methodic and purposeful process, made possible only through the significant help and support of nearly 1,600 residents, 112 community partners and 53 organizations across the county for the health benefit of nearly 225,000 county residents.

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The plan, finalized last month, marks the second time Together! Healthy Linn has successfully completed its mission. Also, this is the second time a rigorous, robust tool — Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership, or MAPP — was used to develop the health improvement plan, as well as its foundational document, the Community Health Assessment. When combined, these documents provide a unique overview on the health of our county as well as necessary action steps for the future. Information and data, collected through a variety of primary and secondary sources and presented objectively, allows the Community Health Assessment to paint a solid picture of the health issues, needs and assets in our communities.

The Community Health Improvement Plan offers a three-year scope to address assessment findings. Bringing this information together is how we can determine where resources should be allocated to best meet the health needs of our county, communities and residents.

Members of the Together! Healthy Linn Steering Committee used a rigorous process to select three health priorities that align community resources and efforts to develop measurable health goals. While we recognize these priorities do not represent all the health issues faced in Linn County, they provide consensus and focus.

Mental Health — Among all demographic groups and assessment methods, mental health was ranked the top concern — and for good reason. In Linn County, diagnoses of mental health conditions are increasing among both youth and adults. Suicide rates are increasing, and suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death in Linn County.

Access to mental health services and support was identified as a need in Linn County. More providers who accept Medicaid, availability of timely appointments, and the need for more mental health care facilities also were underscored.

Obesity — Increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis and some forms of cancer goes hand-in-hand with obesity, which is a significant countywide health concern. About 63 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Almost 32 percent of kindergartners are overweight or obese. Our state ranks fourth in the nation for obesity, with 36 percent of Iowa adults obese.

Primary contributors to obesity are lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating. In Linn County, more than 11 percent of our residents are food insecure; the proportion of food insecurity among children is even higher at 14.5 percent.

Safety — Community violence emerged as a perceived need in the Community Health Assessment. While there is increased concern of gang activities, homelessness, human trafficking and shootings that reduce the feeling of safety, several grassroots efforts, including the Safe, Equitable and Thriving task force, already are underway to address safety concerns in Linn County.

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This Community Health Improvement Plan is a call to action, which provides a road map to Linn County Public Health and all its stakeholders to work together to improve the health of our population. Together! Healthy Linn has begun to convene and develop collaborative action plans associated with each of the three priorities.

Our success relies on continued, engaged countywide partnerships.

Every individual and organization in Linn County can play a role in implementing the health improvement plan by spreading awareness and/or by joining the action teams to implement health improvement strategies. Please connect with us through email at health@linncounty.org, twitter at @LCPublicHealth, or Facebook.

This is not just Linn County Public Health’s plan; it’s everybody’s plan.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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