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Work group studies health of Fremont County

Mar 5, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

What started as a community health assessment on the Wind River Indian Reservation soon turned into a thorough study on factors affecting the health of the whole county.

The Community Health Status Assessment work group -- made up of nurses and health agency officials, including the county's coroner's office -- collected data from several local agencies and community members using the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships tool, thus creating the MAPPing a Healthier Fremont County Coalition Community Assessment 2012.

"Because we all pulled together, and we all came in from different strengths as far as our backgrounds, we got it done," said Jamie Cardine, a registered nurse with Fremont County Public Health and member of the work group.

With the help of public health leaders, MAPP "is a community-driven strategic planning process for improving community health" and is intended to help prioritize public health issues as well as finding the resources to address them.

Priorities set

After the data was collected, health officials identified their top four priorities.

Priority one focused on the high death rate from unnatural causes in Fremont County. According to the report, drugs and alcohol were involved in 71 percent of homicides, 35 percent of suicides and 41 percent of accidental deaths in 2011.

Cardine said seeing those numbers on paper were surprising to many people. She added that more than 50 percent of roadway fatalities are also drug or alcohol related.

Infant death numbers were also high.

"The highest cause of infant death ... can be attributed to unsafe sleep practices," the report reads. "These deaths involve infants sleeping on unsafe surfaces, stomach position or with adults resulting in overlay or asphyxia."

"We already got a grant, based on that, to provide free pack-n-play cribs to mothers that don't have a safe place to sleep their babies," Cardine said.

She said that the second priority dealt with poverty, and she thinks the assessment could help them come up with solutions.

"Our assessment says we have an adequate number of providers," she said. "This could lead to help disparities for low income residents not knowing how to access services."

Because of the third priority -- the demand for good schools and environments for raising children -- a program called "Life, Are You Ready?" is in the works for Fremont County after it was proven to be successful in Gillette. The program places students in pretend situations where they have to make choices.

Cardine gave the example of a party room where children later have to decide if they'll get in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking alcohol at the party. If they choose to get in the car, the driver starts to use their phone while driving, and they get into an accident.

"You end up in the hospital, (and they) send you to a mock (emergency room)," she said.

Once there, hospital staff explain what happened as a result of the accident and the costs from it.

"It's sort of a practice of a bad life choice without having the real consequence," Cardine said.

The program will be taken to Shoshoni, St. Stephen's, Fort Washakie and Dubois schools in May.

The fourth priority is education that provides empowerment, awareness and appreciation of diversity.

Report's future

The report will be made available to agencies and public officials so people can become more aware of it. Cardine said people who have heard the results can't believe it, and she offers the conclusion that it's not just one group of people that is causing the problems, which she said is what people usually think.

Cardine said the work group hopes to seek additional grants to fund other programs.

She said they tried to involve everyone in the county who provides resources to communities. Among those who helped collect the data were the University of Wyoming, Child Development Services, Indian Health Services, WIC, and Help for Health Hospice Home.

"We need to work together to fix these problems," she said.

Because Fremont County has been ranked as an unhealthy county for years, Cardine said the group wants to change that with a more accurate representation of the issues. The group hopes to educate, beginning with school children, and provide resources to those who need the help.

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