Helping Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible

January 7, 2022
DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Mission: Dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans

Making progress toward Strategic Goal 3: Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is engaging in groundbreaking strategic work to develop new ways to help Idahoans live their best lives. One of these new lines of effort, led by the Division of Public Health, involves partnering with communities to improve social and environmental factors called social determinants of health .

Social determinants of health are factors that have a profound impact on a healthy quality of life. As much as 80 percent of what makes us healthy is determined by social and environmental factors such as access to affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, nutritious foods, livable incomes, and quality educational opportunities. Without access to these living conditions and community resources, Idahoans face worsening trends in life expectancy, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, suicide, illicit drug use, youth violence, social isolation, and mental health issues. These issues are intrinsically linked to the underlying social and economic conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.

In Idaho in 2021:

  • 44 percent of children enrolled in public schools were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
  • 45 percent of renters and 17 percent of homeowners, or 153,000 households, were considered cost burdened or severely cost burdened.
  • 11.2 percent of Idahoans lived in poverty.
  • As housing becomes less affordable, homelessness among Idaho schoolchildren has increased.
  • 12.8 percent of Idahoans were without health insurance.

By tracking social determinants of health measures, and the disparities they create, we can better understand the factors contributing to significant health challenges Idahoans face in specific communities. Work focusing on improving the social determinants of health is part of the Get Healthy Idaho plan, which has a goal of building healthy and resilient communities. The vision of Get Healthy Idaho is a future where healthy people live and thrive in safe, healthy, and resilient communities with a focus on supporting place-based initiatives that positively impact the social determinants of health.

Giving communities a platform for their voices

This work is described in the department’s Strategic Plan, in Strategic Objective 3.2. This work is focused on investing in communities. Rather than relying on the established practices of providing single-year funding for pre-determined initiatives, DHW is taking a new approach. We are supporting health collaboratives in communities by asking what they need. Then we are helping them with resources such as project staffing and funding. This enables the community to examine the root causes of the challenges they face and lead community-level strategies that will foster the best possible conditions for everyone.

Katie Lamansky, health program manager of DHW’s Get Healthy Idaho initiative, said this approach has “allowed our community collaborative to build that trust, to know that we're not just here to assess, we're not just here to hopefully get what we need from the community to satisfy grant deliverables or grant objectives. We're really here to build that community power and trust and help it be sustaining over the long term.”

She added, “It's really important to make sure that we give the communities the platform and the voice to be able to say what their needs are; and for us to be able to step back – to have that humility, to step back and think, ‘How can I support them without giving them what I think they need?’”

Drawing on a community’s existing strengths and knowledge will empower people as leaders and create the buy-in necessary to sustain impactful change.

First two Get Healthy Idaho communities funded by DHW

In late 2020, the Division of Public Health  selected the first Get Healthy Idaho funded community – the Western Idaho Community Health Collaborative (WICHC), in partnership with Elmore County Health Coalition (ECHC). The most vulnerable members of Elmore County face persistent mental and behavioral health challenges, along with chronic disease outcomes and risk factors, including diabetes and food insecurity.

Before receiving funding, community health assessment findings from the county revealed residents are concerned with increased stress and isolation and are struggling with poverty, inadequate housing, and low educational attainment.

Over the course of 2021, WICHC in partnership with the Elmore County Health Coalition (ECHC) has strengthened their community collaborative, conducted a qualitative health assessment, and developed an action plan aimed at addressing the root causes of poor health outcomes identified by community members and health data. The action plan, which will be implemented over the next three years, includes four objectives:

  • Connect and expand community health worker programs
  • Complete community health emergency medical services (CHEMS) pilot to address chronic disease and behavioral health
  • Establish a regional mobility consortium
  • Develop a strategic open space and trails plan

The four-year initiative will bring intentional community-led investments to Elmore County to create conditions that allow for optimal health and resiliency. And following in the path forged by this community, work has recently begun with Idaho’s second funded community - United Way of Southeastern Idaho - Bannock County.

These collaborative initiatives are designed to transform the way DHW promotes health by giving communities a platform to voice their own challenges and opportunities for positive change.

You can continue to keep up to date on the work in future Strategic Plan communications, and in the DHW Strategic Plan on our website.

Learn more:

On Dec. 15, 2021, Kate Lamansky participated in a national podcast about the Get Healthy Idaho work and the funded health equity zone communities in Idaho. To learn more about community-led health equity projects, including DHW’s initiatives, you can listen to the podcast from The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (or read the podcast transcript).

I hope you all have a safe and healthy weekend.

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