Community health public input session to be held next week

·4 min read

Jan. 13—Frederick County residents will have a chance to share their thoughts on public health issues in their community at a forum hosted next week by the county's Health Care Coalition, Health Department and largest health system.

The input session, scheduled for 2-4 p.m. Jan. 19, is a key part of the county's local health improvement process. Every three years, the coalition works with Frederick Health and the Frederick County Health Department to assess health needs in the community and create a plan for addressing those issues through local action and public engagement.

At the meeting, which the public is welcome to attend, subject-matter experts will present findings on five community health priorities the coalition identified earlier this month. Members of the public will then split off into small groups to discuss the issues and brainstorm ways to address them.

Malcolm Furgol, who was named the coalition's first executive director last year, said he and others involved in the local health improvement process want community members to feel a sense of ownership over it.

"This is not the coalition's process, it is the public's process," Furgol said. "This is for the public good."

The public health priorities the coalition identified in this cycle are mental health, obesity in adults and adolescents, diabetes — with a particular focus on Type 2 diabetes, adverse childhood experiences in adolescents, and the lack of early prenatal care for certain populations, such as Hispanic women.

To determine these priorities, the coalition used data from a community health survey administered over the summer, as well as information from other local surveys and reports. The organization also held discussions with a series of focus groups, including low-income seniors, Hispanic women, residents of the county's most vulnerable census tract and African American women who were pregnant, had a child in the last two years or were planning to get pregnant.

Following next week's public input session, the coalition's board of directors will determine the final priorities that will be included in this year's Community Health Needs Assessment and the updated local health improvement plan. The board will also create workgroups for tackling each of the priorities, if there aren't existing community organizations already working on solutions.

Those who participate in next week's public input session will be invited to volunteer with a workgroup. Furgol noted that community groups are also welcome to host their own discussions on the public health priorities and share their conversations with the coalition.

A new aspect of the triennial process is that the coalition now has two paid staff members to assist workgroup volunteers: Furgol and grant coordinator Colleen Swank.

"The coalition is very excited that we're in a position to offer more concrete human resources to support the workers this new cycle," Furgol said.

The coalition is aiming to publish a draft of this year's Community Health Needs Assessment in March and have workgroups share objectives for addressing the priorities by June, Furgol said.

Already, Elizabeth Chung says she is proud of how this stage of the local health improvement process has been progressing. Chung, executive director of the Asian American Center of Frederick and a member of the coalition's board of directors, noted the organization received more responses to its survey last year than it ever has before. More than 4,000 people shared their thoughts and experiences with the coalition, compared to 1,692 in the 2018 survey.

You can't talk about public health in a vacuum, Chung said. You have to analyze the root causes of issues, whether they be poverty, systematic barriers, racism, or access to health insurance. And, she said, community members must be heard in this process.

"Let's listen to them," she said. "Because if we listen to them and think of ways each of our stakeholders bring their resources together, wouldn't it be more cost effective?"

Rick Weldon, president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, said he has been involved with the local health improvement process for longer than he has held his current position with the chamber. Investing in county residents' quality of life is really important, he said, and the chamber definitely has a role in establishing metrics and benchmarks in creating healthy communities.

There are more than 44,000 full-time employees who work for businesses that belong to the chamber. If the county can give them a better shot at finding stable and predictable health care, Weldon said, it makes Frederick a better place to live, work and raise a family.

So often, he added, people complain they didn't get the opportunity to contribute to conversations that lead to the creation of plans and policies.

"Here is their chance," he said of next week's forum.

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier

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