Denton County's in year two of a three-year plan to improve coordination of health information and services to its population.
Dr. Matt Richardson, Director of Denton County Public Health, says the Community Health Improvement plan was not focused on the quality of care, but rather providing access to a population of nearly 900,000 people.
"There’s some great health care service happening for residents of Denton County," Richardson said. "But the coordination was a bit lacking, though, I think it can be scattered."
Following a community assessment of health care needs, the plan identified five areas of health concerns:
- Access to care
- Behavioral health
- Exercise, weight and nutrition
- Eduation and prevention
- Health outcomes: Chronic disease
"We think with some momentum on a focused approach where we are prioritizing these health concerns, maybe we can move the needle," Richardson said. "One of the most difficult things to do in public health is to move the needle on a health trend or a health concern."
About health care access in Denton County: Accessing primary care, accessing specialty care, accessing preventive care — that's an ongoing challenge. We need to co-opt other people and other organizations to help us out. And that may mean sonograms for low-income mothers. That may mean navigation programs to get people enrolled in the affordable care products. That could mean a whole host of things that other organizations could champion. We're not prescriptive in that. We are wanting to prescribe an area of concern for people to focus and prioritize.
Was health care somehow lacking in Denton County? There's some great health care service happening for residents of Denton County. But again, the coordination was a bit lacking, though, I think it can be scattered. We think with some momentum on a focused approach where we are prioritizing these health concerns, maybe we can move the needle. One of the most difficult things to do in public health is to move the needle on a health trend or a health concern.
Why? Denton County’s almost 900,000 people. Moving a health trend or a metric for a cohort of individuals that size is statistically really difficult. So what we think is we need to have a focused approach and get as many people involved on these things like let’s make sure you can access the existing resources. Let's don’t go build new places, new things. Let's try to maximize the utilization of what exists.
County's high rate of conscientious immunization objections: It's difficult because there are in today's media options — social media being maybe the worst offender — an opinion now takes precedence over data and a professional and scientific demonstration. So we've got to combat that. And in Denton County, we're well educated as a county. One of the highest per capita incomes as a county. But one of our problems is that some of our parents are making decisions that could negatively affect their children throughout the course of their lives when it comes to refusing to vaccinate.
Plan's progress so far: We've addressed some behavioral and mental health concerns. Back to immunization concerns, we're partnering with Cook Children's [Health Care System] and the Watch Coalition to advertise and market those services and to try and educate parents in the pediatricians' offices about that. We're screening people for income that come and want primary care, and tell them if they're eligible for some nutritional assistance or W.I.C. services, Medicaid. We're now trying to integrate existing programs, and not create something new, but try to maximize what's already in our community. We're making strides at that.
What at stake? The worsening health for our family, friends and neighbors. That's something we all should care about. That's something we all should be interested in defending. And to maximize the opportunities for others to achieve optimal health and wellness.