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Here's how McLean County can be healthier

Here's how McLean County can be healthier

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BLOOMINGTON — The path to a healthier McLean County should include a community approach to enhance mental health and substance abuse treatment, improved access to health care and promoting healthy eating and active living, according to McLean County's three-year Community Health Improvement Plan.

The 85-page plan, which has proposals to address McLean County's top three health needs during the next three years, was approved Wednesday night by the McLean County Board of Health.

McLean County's second countywide, three-year health improvement plan is scheduled to be OK'd later this month by boards representing Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center and Chestnut Health System. Those entities and the McLean County Health Department have representatives on the steering committee of the McLean County Community Health Council, which approved the plan Dec. 17.

"That we have a joint plan is remarkable," Cathy Coverston Anderson, health department assistant administrator and the department's representative on the steering committee, told the Board of Health.

She said a report will be released in June showing how the community responded to the 2017-2019 plan.

The 2020-2022 plan being approved this month is a response to the Community Health Needs Assessment, which was completed in August following data collection and analysis, a survey of county residents and the involvement of 54 individuals representing about 40 organizations in health care, human services, schools, local government, police and major employers.

The assessment identified behavioral health (mental health and substance abuse treatment), access to health care and healthy eating and active living as McLean County's top health needs.

Among behavioral health findings were that 28 percent of survey respondents rated their mental health as good compared with 72 percent in 2015, 82 percent reported mental health as being a major health issue locally, 31 percent of youths reported feeling sad or hopeless with 16 percent seriously considering attempting suicide, and McLean County having more emergency department visits than most Illinois counties because of adolescent suicide, intentional self-injury and alcohol use.

The plan calls for more use of evidence-based programs, such as the Ending the Silence suicide awareness program, Mental Health First Aid and Too Good for Drugs; the creation of a substance use coalition; and continuing efforts to grow tele-psychiatry, to assist frequent users of the justice system and emergency departments and to expand immediate access to behavioral health care, such as through the McLean County Triage Center.

Among access to care findings were that 19 percent of survey respondents reported using the emergency department as their primary medical care and 19 percent reported not having access to dental care.

The plan calls for linking lower income residents with a medical home, increasing the capacity of organizations that provide them with dental services, increasing availability of transportation for them to health care and increasing accessibility to community-based services.

Among healthy eating/active living findings were that 86 percent of county residents don't meet exercise guidelines, 94 percent don't eat enough fruits and vegetables and 32 percent of adults are obese.

The plan calls for more education about the availability of fruits and veggies, increased access to healthy foods and promoting physical activity in the workplace, community and among children.

Paul Swiech's memorable stories of 2019

Choosing my five favorite stories of 2019 is impossible. I don't view articles as favorites. They are either good or they aren't. So what I have done is selected good articles that represent some of the work that I've done in 2019. Comparing articles is difficult so I stayed away from news stories. Instead I gravitated to more in-depth stories that spoke to a cross section of our readers and generated a lot of feedback throughout the year.

After a coroner's report included information about all the fall-related deaths in McLean County and during our long winter that resulted in a lot of slips and slides, I did a two-part series on falls in March. I didn't just report the numbers but personalized the issue by interviewing people who had fallen and included information about the dangers, how people could reduce their risk, where help was available and how nursing homes and hospitals were responding.

After our dog Kip died, I considered that he offered us life lessons, as silly as that may sound. Kip was known among several people in the community from when my son showed him in 4-H and from his many walks in Miller Park. But the response to the column that I wrote in January about Kip's life lessons proved that thousands of our readers agreed that there's a lot to be learned from our canine companions.

Dodie Dunson Sr. has been a good source of information for several Pantagraph stories over the years, including stories that I did in summer 2018 on how the Bloomington-Normal community could respond to an increase in gun violence. I realized that we'd never profiled Dodie. He prefers that others, especially youth, be in the spotlight. But he agreed to an interview and photos and others shared their voices. What resulted was a better understanding of a man who has worked behind the scenes for many years to make McLean County a better place to live.

When some politicians blamed mental illness for the increase in mass shootings, one human services professional who lives with mental illness reached out to me and expressed concern that this was discouraging people from getting help because they feared they could be branded as violent. So I worked with him to assemble a panel of human services professionals, some of whom live with mental illness, to share their thoughts, their personal and professional stories and research. What resulted was a thoughtful piece that also included where people can get help and a sidebar on local law enforcement's take on the issue.

When the cost of insulin became the subject of national, state and local debate during the summer, I personalized the issue by interviewing a person with diabetes from LeRoy and interviewed certified diabetes educators to get the facts. I included information from insulin manufacturers to provide their perspective and told readers struggling with high costs where help was available. I also wrote about state legislation to control costs. The legislation passed the General Assembly later in the year and was signed by the governor.

Contact Paul Swiech at 309-820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.

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