Jefferson County Public Health Department Prioritizes Community Concerns with 5-year Plan

THE JEFFERSON CENTER FOR MENTAL Department developed its 5-year County Health Improvement Plan based on resident concerns about mental and behavioral health, economic stability and climate change. PHOTO BY NATALIE KERR

The Jefferson County Public Health Department conducted a public survey in Fall 2023. The survey, which was completed on the Jeffco website and through social media channels, received around 670 responses from mostly residents, but also included county staff and subject matter experts, said Public Health Planning Supervisor Myra Shanks. 

Jefferson County community members listed mental and behavioral health, economic stability and climate change as top public health concerns.  

An epidemiology team pulled the top ten emerging items respondents identified as public health concerns, and further dwindled the list to the top three. Once identifying the top three, the County Health Improvement Plan, or CHIP, was created in spring 2024. After an 18-month activation period, implementation of the plan will occur over the next five years. 

CHIP identifies focus areas within each of the three health priorities, according to their website. For mental and behavioral health, the County will focus on access to care, substance misuse prevention and treatment and suicide prevention. For economic stability the county will focus on reducing household economic pressure and housing affordability and quality. For climate change the county will focus on air and water quality and adaptation and preparing for climate change-related threats. 

Edgewater resident Kabe Flynn is most interested in addressing climate change. 

“The science doesn’t lie,” Flynn said. “It’s hard to not think that the climate is changing. If you can’t fix that, you won’t have to worry about mental health or financial support because there won’t be a habitable planet.” 

The early stages of CHIP include an 18-month activation period. The main goals during the activation period include investment from relevant stakeholders, identifying key metrics and how to monitor progress, Shanks said. 

From the small urban community of Edgwater to the mountain community of Evergreen, Jefferson County contains a large geographic diversity. The Public Health Department aims to take a localized approach, so all communities can benefit from the plan, Shanks said. 

“Mental and behavioral health issues, for instance, look a little bit different across the County for different folks, and in different geographic areas—same for economic stability, same for climate change,” Shanks said. “The main thing we learned from the data is we have to do some more digging and get more localized in our approach. The county level doesn’t tell the whole story in terms of how this shows up in Edgewater and what it means for a family in Lakewood.” 

For example, populations in Edgewater provider shortages in the mental and behavioral field or cost of care may be more of a concern than transportation, which may be more of a concern for those living in mountain communities, Shanks said. 

In the beginning stages of CHIP the County Health Department will build a strategy with non-profit partners, community and municipal partners, professional organizations and residents. The stakeholder list is not available to the public now. The health department will update their website with additional information and opportunities to contribute to the implementation of CHIP.  

“We want this to be meaningful,” Shanks said. “In order to do that we have to understand what’s really going on. We want to hear from [Jeffco residents] and want them to be involved.”

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