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With the nation, the state and the county in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19, it’s fitting to honor the public health department leading our community’s response to this emergency. This message is from the Director of Chaffee County Public Health, Andrea Carlstrom, about the department she leads:

“In observance of National Public Health Week, April 6-12, I would like to thank each and every Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) staff member and community partner for making the past year a successful one in the population health landscape of Chaffee County and our region.”

Worldwide, we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, and our public health system is being put to the test in an unprecedented and uncertain time.  Now, more than ever before, we must prioritize and support public health by following the state and local Stay at Home orders, distancing, isolating, and quarantining ourselves to slow the spread of COVID-19, and cheering on our local healthcare and critical service workers for their tireless efforts in meeting the immediate needs of our community.  The communicable disease and emergency preparedness and response team at CCPH, comprised of Emily Anderson, Cassondra Franco, Sandra Morgan, Sarah Adams, and Miki Hodge (borrowed from another county department) jumped into community testing early at the onset of COVID-19 in Colorado, created several platforms for communicating accurate and relevant information related to COVID-19, and is currently investigating positive cases to connect the dots to the people and places where COVID-19 might have been transmitted and spread.

On a regular basis, I find myself telling a friend, neighbor, or colleague how I am so grateful that I get to not only live in this beautiful and special county, but I have the honor of serving it in my public health role at the same time.  CCPH’s COVID-19 response team has been pouring countless hours into ensuring that COVID-19 has the least impact possible on the health of Chaffee County.  Our COVID-19 response is yet another chance for our county to shine- with kindness, understanding, compassion, and responsibility.

While COVID-19 is certainly an unparalleled priority for us at CCPH, there are so many stars to recognize in our small, but mighty, public health department.

Program highlights from the past year include:

  • CCPH nurses administered 2197 vaccinations to 1117 patients since April 1, 2019, including 139 Tuberculosis tests to 96 patients.  Our county experienced an active influenza season, and administered 543 regular doses and 113 high doses of flu vaccine.  These numbers far surpassed previous years.
  • Maternal and child health programming is an essential cornerstone of the public health system.  Our two nurse home visitation programs, Healthy Start and Nurse Family Partnership (NFP), have expanded to help more families in need.  In fact, we now have two nurses serving NFP- Katie Campbell and Fran Jimenez.  This year, CCPH’s Healthy Start program was chosen to participate in the Harvard School of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluation practicum.  Both Cassondra Franco and Emily Anderson had the unique opportunity to visit the CDC and be paired with students to work on an evaluation tool for the program.  The students then spent time in Chaffee County to finalize the tool.  Having a strong evaluation component for Healthy Start will mature the program as evidence-informed which is a huge milestone. In addition, CCPH, along with community partners, has held successful Mountain Mama Summits and Family Festivals for the past several years that focus on good parenting, healthy relationships, self-care strategies, and wellness resources.
  • CCPH’s Breastfeeding-Friendly Environments program, along with the Chaffee County Breastfeeding Coalition, has made significant strides in ensuring that Chaffee County mothers have the lactation support and resources needed to breastfeed their children.  Our Breastfeeding Coordinator, Lorraine Redmond, has branched out and offered her expertise to our neighbors in Lake, Custer, and Fremont Counties and has built a regional breastfeeding network.  At the 2019 August’s Big Latch On event, 22 mothers breastfed together at Alpine Park while 50 people were in attendance, including dads, to promote a world record for number of mothers breastfeeding at the same time.  Our first ever Regional Lactation Day brought together 27 health professionals and community members to cultivate local coalition infrastructure and sustainability, improve lactation skills and promote breastfeeding-friendly environments.  Healthy Communities continues to link new families to the many programs and services our county has to offer with Cheryl Walker coordinating those efforts.
  • The Chaffee County Diabetes Prevention and Management Network, in collaboration with Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, has experienced increased participation in its National Diabetes Prevention Program for the past several years, offering regular and ongoing maintenance classes throughout the county.  Because of the creative and consistent efforts of health educators Rebecca Rice and Bev Orrill, the average weight loss of participants is 12.9%.  The minimum expectation is 5%, so we are clearly making a significant difference in the lives of Chaffee County residents.
  • In addition, CCPH’s Colorado Heart Healthy Solutions program has conducted 86 screenings, 100 retests, and 736 follow-ups since July 2019.  In 2019, staff completed 155 first time A1cs.  Of the 155 clients, 113 or 72.9% were prediabetic or diabetic.  157 retests were also administered.  Of the 157 retests, 53 or 33.7% decreased their number and 19 or 12% were no longer prediabetic or diabetic.  Our diabetes programs are saving lives.
  • As we all know, this has been an active year in the tobacco and vaping prevention movement.  Early this year, the Salida City Council approved an ordinance that raises the minimum age of 21 years to purchase tobacco/nicotine products and requires a license to be procured by tobacco/nicotine retailers in order to sell these products.  CCPH, along with Communities that Care, is working with other municipalities to follow suit.  Our Baby and Me Tobacco Free program has also been helping a steady stream of pregnant women and their partners quit smoking.
  • Oral Health is a top priority for our county in its 2017-2021 Community Health Improvement Plan.  Julie Nutter, with the support of Nancy Hunt, continue to offer school-based screenings, sealants, fluoride varnishes, and cleanings in Chaffee County and in some of our region’s most desperate communities.  In addition, this program offers dental navigation and coordination for older adults in our county.
  • Over the past year, CCPH has created a new position to take on projects and initiatives that don’t quite fall within traditional health departments.  Mike Orrill, as Special Projects Coordinator, has been tasked to work on some of our county’s (and quite frankly, our nation’s) toughest issues, such as opioid addiction, homelessness, and stigma reduction.  We have been fortunate to secure funding over the past year to bring addiction education, community awareness, and safe needle disposals to Chaffee County.  In addition, Mike has led the charge with bringing Safe Zone training to community members and professionals so that we are all aware of gender and sexuality issues and can be strong allies.
  • In Environmental Health, CCPH conducted a needs assessment throughout last year, led by Manager Wano Urbonas, that included a community-wide survey, forums, and one-on-one interviews.  Ambient air quality, surface water quality, and solid waste management were top priorities generated from the assessment.  We will be looking at ways to build capacity in our community to address these areas in the future.
  • Access to healthcare is crucial to population health, especially in rural communities.  Our Connect for Health Colorado Navigator, Michelle Nay, successfully completed the last open enrollment period, with 465 scheduled appointments, getting 221 clients enrolled in a marketplace plan, 85 clients enrolled in Medicaid, 37 clients enrolled in CHP+, 40 mixed households with CHP+ and a marketplace plan, and 42 clients receiving other health insurance assistance or education.
  • One of CCPH’s newest initiatives, the Health Disparities Grant Program, has brought to light the direct impact that having safe, affordable, and consistent housing has on our health.  In collaboration with the Chaffee County Office of Housing and Development Department, CCPH has co-hosted a wide range of educational opportunities to address the affordable housing crisis that our county, and many others like it, are facing.  The Housing+Health series will be offering virtual presentations with subject matter experts in missing middle housing and conservation subdivision planning.  Lisa Martin, the newest member to the CCPH, has been a huge asset to ensuring these events are a success.
  • Our team wouldn’t be able to accomplish such significant milestones without a strong administrative backbone.  While Annie Macy keeps our accounting and grant financials organized and managed, Sarah Adams makes sure that our community’s needs are met with scheduling, fielding questions, and posting valuable information on social media.  The contributions of these two administrative professionals are unparalleled and appreciated by CCPH staff and partners.

The above-mentioned public health initiatives are just a glimpse of programming and projects that CCPH is involved in.  It is because of the talent and dedication of an amazing team that our local public health agency is able to accomplish so much with finite resources.  I am grateful for the continued support and enthusiasm of the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners and Administration, along with the collaborative spirit of our community partners.

Happy National Public Health Week!
Andrea Carlstrom, Director, Chaffee County Public Health

Featured image: Director Andrea Carlstrom, second row, left, and the members of the Chaffee County Public Health Department.