Jefferson County 20/20 Health Plan Aims to Improve Overall Health of Community

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It takes 20/20 focus to identify the multitude of factors impacting the health of Jefferson County residents. After months of planning, the County Department of Health has developed a plan and is putting it into action. The county and community organizations are partnering to improve health and quality of life with its Community Matters 20/20 Plan.

Janika Hall is sitting in a large classroom at the YMCA in West Birmingham. She’s a quiet young lady, dressed in her school uniform. She’s just finished her homework.

“The counselors help me with my homework cause sometimes my mama don’t get the work that I do, because she said she hasn’t been to school in a long time. And, they do good at their job,” she explains.

Janika and approximately 30 of her fellow students are part of the YMCA’s After School Academy. Travis Stoves is the family program director here. He says he and his staff serve students from 14 area schools. “We pick them up, they do their homework, give them a healthy snack. They get tutoring and afterwards they go in play mode.”

The YMCA is one of about 30 agencies that have signed on to partner with the Jefferson County Department of Health Community Matters 20/20 plan. Just over a year ago, the Jefferson County Department of Health embarked on an exploratory mission — hitting the streets to determine the top major health issues folks were experiencing.

“One of the reasons we do this is to make sure we’re staying in touch with the community and what the community’s needs are,” say Dr. Mark Wilson, Health Officer for the Department of Health. “That we’re getting a thorough and accurate assessment of what the health needs are in the community, so we’re not here in our silo assuming we know what the issues are.”

Assessing the counties major health needs was no easy task. Wilson’s team gathered facts and opinions from over one thousand members of the community.

“As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of data, both from quantitative and qualitative date,” expalins Bryn Manzella, director of quality improvement for the Jefferson County Department of Health. She’s a member of the team that’s responsible for the plans development and implementation.

“We did analysis from both of those sets of data and originally came up with about 10 strategic issues or areas, which seems to be of highest importance to our community, based on the data,” Manzella recalls.

However, studies show that communities usually can’t adequately address more than five major health issues at a time. Manzella and her associates narrowed it down. The first was obvious: to reduce health disparities associated with race, ethnicity and economic status. Most Jefferson County residents surveyed agreed it was the most serious health issue facing the county.

The others: to promote physical well-being through healthy lifestyle, optimize the built environment and transportation system, optimize healthcare access and improve mental health. Dr. Mark Wilson explains the Jefferson County Department of Health can’t do it alone.

“We, as one health department can only do so much and so in order for us to really have a maximum impact on the health of the community, we must partner with the community and partner with entities in the community that are engaged in things that will impact the health of the people who live there.” Wilson explains.

Community response has been positive. Some agencies have volunteered to take a lead role as the Department of Health’s 20/20 strategy moves forward. The YMCA is one of them.

“We feel like we need to be engaged in our community and try to help them with others, the various community issues that are facing our neighborhoods and our entire region,” explains Stan Law, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Birmingham.

Law says the countywide 20/20 plan is in perfect alignment with the YMCA’s mission.

“We simply wanted to play our role and figure out how the Y could help other agencies in the community address the various health issues.”

The process continues. Dr. Wilson says the plan isn’t set in stone. He says as issues arise, the department will incorporate them into the plan.

A perfect example, says Wilson, is Jefferson County’s heroin problem. It wasn’t on the radar when the 20/20 plan began, but has now been added to the plan’s mental health strategy. He hopes this collaborative and adaptive approach will go far to address the county’s health struggles.


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