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“Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health”

On behalf of Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH), I’d like for our Chaffee County community to join me in recognizing National Public Health Week (NPHW) which is April 3rd through 9th this year. This year’s theme is “Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health” and according to the American Public Health Association, “Our cultures have always shaped our health. We learn from the communities we’re born in and that we build together.

Chaffee County Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom.

For this NPHW, we look to community leaders as our health leaders. We celebrate the unique and joyful ways different cultures focus on health. And we look to how we can learn from each other, with humility and openness.” There is no better time to honor our county’s continued vision where every resident and visitor alike has the resources, services, and supports they need to thrive in health and wellness while recognizing different cultural needs and desires.

Chaffee County’s local public health system is stronger than it has ever been, having navigated the past several years’ challenges successfully while creating new and innovative programming and maintaining traditional services that the county has grown to know over the years. It is a time of reconnection in the public health field where local community partners are meeting in person once again and fostering and strengthening relationships to rebuild a resilient and comprehensive public health system.

CCPH is also well-connected to peers, associations, and subject-matter experts throughout the state to ensure that resources and ideas are secured at all levels of the system. It is imperative that Chaffee County’s voice and its rural, mountain perspective is heard and honored in decision and policymaking at the state and national level. Reflecting upon the milestones of the past year at CCPH, I’d like to share some highlights with you:

Chaffee County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP):

Chaffee Community Clinic (CCC) hours and locations as of June 28, 2022. Image courtesy Chaffee County Public Health

In 2021, CCPH conducted its Community Health Assessment which drives its 5-year CHIP. The three top priorities chosen were behavioral health, access to healthcare services, and environmental health. Several new programs and initiatives have been created or expanded in response to the assessment. The document is being used widely throughout the county for data mining, grant writing, and calls to action.

Chaffee Community Clinic: 

CCPH launched its free mobile health clinic, Chaffee Community Clinic (CCC), on May 23rd, 2022, in response to acknowledging that access to health care in our county is a top priority, and it has been a consistent and trusted source of health care and connection since then. On Monday afternoons from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. at the Salida United Methodist Church and on Tuesday afternoons from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Buena Vista Community Center, CCPH staff provide healthcare system navigation, recovery medication for substance use, sterile syringe exchange (in Salida only), vaccinations, overdose prevention medication, dental health, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, and behavioral health assistance.

Staff regularly make referrals to local health care and other service providers. In February alone, which was a short month, CCC served 34 clients seeking out harm reduction services, saw 3 new clients for care management, navigated 14 people to behavioral health services, and completed 5 STI panels.

Many clients report that they would not be getting these services anywhere else in the county. CCC is funded through grants from Health Colorado and the Colorado Health Foundation.

Community Mobilization Initiative: 

Through a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, CCPH is now testing for STIs and HIV and has created an educational website at for those who want to know the facts about STIs and HIV as well as testing and treatment options in hopes of de-stigmatizing getting help. In addition, this grant has helped support the creation of a harm reduction coalition that has brought together key health stakeholders to help inform future programming and a coordinated education and outreach effort.

Behavioral Health Coordination and Navigation Workforce: 

Knowing that the behavioral health system can be tough to navigate and that needs continue to be on the rise, CCPH created a new workforce solely dedicated to helping people with mental health or substance use conditions get connected to the appropriate level of services and support they need, locally and beyond.

In addition, they help facilitate our regional substance use coalition as well as the regional opioid settlement efforts in prevention, anti-stigma, and retaining behavioral health workforce in our area. The CCPH Health Navigation Team not only focused on behavioral health needs but oral health, aging well, and housing.

Aging Well:

Over the past few years, CCPH has been cultivating a program to ensure that the needs of older adults in the county are addressed in a coordinated way with collaborative spirit. The Aging Well program at CCPH has brought Yoga for Older Adults, Game Day, Embracing Aging and its health fair/expo, and many other fun and engaging activities into the lives of our older adult population (over one-quarter of our county is 65 and older.)

CCPH, in partnership with the Chaffee Housing Authority, also launched a home share program that connects older adults who have room in their house (home providers) with people looking for an affordable and attainable housing situation (home seekers) as one solution to the county’s affordable housing landscape. We are so close to our first successful match! Another exciting development that has been on the horizon for some time is that Ark Valley Helping Hands is no longer a nonprofit but rather an official program of CCPH.  All of these initiatives can synergize with each other with the oversight of CCPH.

A sample of the We are Chaffee programing: the CMC and We are Chaffee Dinner and a Movie

We Are Chaffee:

In 2019, CCPH, with the now Chaffee Housing Authority, began a storytelling and advocacy movement called We Are Chaffee (WAC). It started with a storytelling class that resulted in several local stories about the importance of housing and home followed by showcasing them at a Dinner and a Movie event.

Today, we have expanded WAC to a written storytelling effort called We Are Chaffee, Too and a podcast, Looking Upstream (content not focused on fishing but rather the social determinants of health), and in the near future will be working on a documentary that captures the uniqueness of Chaffee County and its health and wellness environment.

Virta Health Study: 

In 2022-23, CCPH, along with Colorado Heart Healthy Solutions, has been participating in a pilot study called the VICTOR Pilot Study Opportunity for Diabetics. VICTOR partnered with Virta Health which is a nationwide medical corporation in the business of reversing type 2 diabetes. Virta Health was seeking diabetics in rural communities and looking at the effects of a virtual lifestyle intervention combined with reduced carbohydrate nutritional counseling. The impact of such an intervention on glucose control is the focus of the study.

During the study, 49 diabetics from Chaffee County and surrounding counties enrolled in VICTOR. These diabetics will spend a total of nine months working with the Health Educator at CCPH and with Virta Health. The pilot study is still ongoing but early results show promising improvements in their A1c test scores. Of the 49 enrollees, 26 have reduced their A1c scores, 11 have dropped from diabetes to pre-diabetes and three have completely reversed their diabetes. These improvements have been achieved by dietary changes while reducing medications. Participation in CCPH’s National Diabetes Prevention Program is at an all-time high.

As one can see, it’s been busy at CCPH, and the future is looking hopeful and bright in our pursuit to make Chaffee County the healthiest place to live in Colorado and beyond. Please join me in celebrating National Public Health Week by recognizing the amazing CCPH team and our supportive community partners that make our local public health system resilient and special.

Andrea Carlstrom, MBA
Director, Chaffee County Public Health