Trying to create and maintain healthier communities is the mission of Healthier Together Pierce and St. Croix Counties.

The coalition is made up of the four hospitals in both counties – Westfields Hospital and Clinic, Western Wisconsin Health, Hudson Hospital and Clinic and River Falls Area Hospital; both counties’ respective public health agencies, UW-Extension and the United Way of St. Croix Valley.

Last month, the group discussed its 2017-2019 Community Health Improvement Plan and the activities taken during the time frame.

“If you live here, it’s your health we care about,” said Natasha Ward, Director of Community Health Improvement & Integrative Health for Western Wisconsin Health.

To enhance the mission, data was collected the following ways:

• Feedback from community members which helped the group understand the needs of the communities served.

• Perspectives from individuals, who have public health experience and are more.

• From organizations Healthier Together could partner up with.

The findings from the first survey, gathered in 2016, showed three targets at the top of the list: mental health, obesity and overweight, and alcohol abuse.

Mental Health

To address mental health, the Make It OK campaign was launched to increase awareness about mental health and reduce stigma. 365 ambassadors were trained to provide presentations in both counties along with 30 trainers to provide classes to the public and 25 trainers continue teaching classes to date. Since 2017, 500 members of the public were trained in Mental Health First Aid in 50 classes.

Awareness was also taught at the schools as a meeting was held October 2018 in which local school, county and health care leaders were shown the root causes of mental health issues for youth.

Finally, a complete inventory of mental health services and resources for residents of both counties were distributed.

Overweight and Obese

A food insecurity action team was created to ensure healthier food was more accessible to residents and to strengthen the food support systems in our area by offering meetings for local food pantries.

A new Food Share Outreach Specialist position was assigned and enrolled 104 families in Pierce and St. Croix Counties into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2018, which provided more than 54,100 meals for those families. The United Way St. Croix Valley expanded offerings for healthy food to those in need by partnering with local farmers to add Community Supported Agriculture shares of fresh, locally grown, produce for each pantry throughout the summer to their existing produce distributions.

Meanwhile, the Physical Activity Action Team worked with schools to promote National Walk to School Day along with Bike to School Day. In addition, libraries in both counties expressed an interest in having natured-themed backpacks which can be checked out by kids and families to take to parks. Thanks to funding from Allina Health, those backpacks were purchased.

Furthermore, Ward discussed the installation of more community walkways, which is obviously good for improving one’s mental health and reducing weight.

Alcohol Abuse

The Alcohol Action Team was created to decrease both adult and youth alcohol use through changes to policy, systems and environment. A public awareness campaign was conducted to show the dangers of overconsumption.

Next week: What’s in store for the next three years.

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