Health for Everyone
You may know El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH) for its disease prevention and control, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs, or restaurant inspections, but Public Health is integrated in everything we do, says Mina Liebert, public health planner.
“Collectively we hope that we can change our system so that people are actually not getting sick as often and not needing those cardiovascular meds or diabetes meds because they are already more heart-healthy or already making better eating decisions,” Liebert says. “Or they are more physically active because they have the ability to walk to a park or maybe they can afford a facility that has equipment to exercise.”
Removing barriers related to housing, transportation and social connectedness is part of the process. Every five years, the EPCPH and the Health Community Collaborative choose priorities out of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s “10 Winnable Battles” and create a Community Health Improvement Plan to address them. For its 2018-2022 cycle, they set strategies to address mental health and substance abuse, and healthy eating/active living. All of it is viewed through a health equity lens in order to address root causes alongside basic needs.
“We know that we need to have quality healthcare in order to address whatever major ailment or concern that we have, but if we start at going back to basic social determinants of health and those root causes of why people actually are unhealthy or become unhealthy to begin with, it comes down to where they live and sometimes where they work,” Liebert says. “If those conditions are not ideal, it makes it really difficult for somebody to have positive health outcomes.”
For example, she asks, if people are coming from a place or position without the necessary education, how will they be able to get a better job? Without a better job and higher income, how will they be able to afford better food options or be able to prioritize healthier eating purchases and choices?
“Systemic barriers are what public health is trying to address. As a community-facing agency, we have the capability to really influence policy and systems types of changes that will hopefully trickle down to the individual,” Liebert says.
She views health equity as a priority integrated into all the work of EPCPH. “At the end of the day, if you don’t have your health, you’re not going to have a high quality of life,” she says. “And if you don’t have high quality of life, it makes it really difficult to accomplish things that you really want to do.”
View El Paso County’s Public Health scorecards CHIP through the statewide community health dashboard Thriving Colorado.
When Colorado Springs voters decided five years ago to lease Memorial Health System to the University of Colorado Health, they also decided to establish a foundation, setting aside the proceeds of the lease to benefit the health and wellness of residents of both El Paso and Teller counties. Now in its third cycle of funding, the Colorado Springs Health Foundation focuses on providing grants that 1) expand access to health care for those in greatest need; 2) address the workforce shortage of primary care or psychiatric providers; 3) prevent suicide; and 4) cultivate healthy environments in high-need or underserved communities.
CSHF Executive Director Cari Davis says the foundation takes a holistic and integrative view by funding a wide range of organizations from TESSA to Project Angel Heart to the Trails and Open Space Coalition. “We recognize that health care needs transcend the body and mind, and so we invest in a range of access to care initiatives aimed at improving physical, mental and oral health. Moreover, we understand that a person’s health is influenced by much more than health care.”
The length and quality of our lives, she explains, are driven by the physical environment (housing, air and water quality), social and economic factors (housing, education, employment, community safety), and health behaviors (physical activity and food choices). “As a result, we invest in ‘healthy environments,’” she says, “which we currently define as spaces and places that encourage greater physical activity and access to healthy, affordable food.”