Chippewa Valley addresses area health concerns

March 2, 2018

In helping prioritize and address the health issues relating to the Chippewa Valley area, the Board of Health along with the Community Health Assessment Partnership (CHP) held a conversation meeting at L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, focusing on mental health, substance abuse and alcohol misuse.

Elizabeth Giese, left, Director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, discussed health concerns with citizens of Eau Claire at the Community Conversation meeting. @ 2018 Sadie Sedlmayr

The discussion was one of four follow-ups to a survey completed last fall by more than 3,400 county residents.

Representatives from different health departments, as well as local health care facilities and agencies, and non-profit organizations took part in answering questions or concerns from citizens at the forum.

“The partnerships have come together to help coordinate this assessment, and then we come together as a group to reconvene and address the issues,” said Jan Porath, executive director of United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley.

Porath said it is not just about programs and coalitions, but it’s also about bringing more people into these conversations and adding more muscle to these concerns as a result.

Among the groups which took part in this coalition were representatives of the Chippewa County Department of Public Health, Chippewa Health Improvement Partnership, Eau Claire City-County Health Department Eau Claire Healthy Communities, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital, Marshfield Clinic, Mayo Clinic Health System and United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley.

The results of conversation, as well as the survey, helped in defining the scale in which these issues need to be addressed. One spectator in the audience, who came to support CHP, said she’s hoping the attendees continue more discussion regarding mental health beyond this setting.

“I hope that we continue this conversation because the more we talk about mental health, the better, because it has historically been a stigma within the community,” said Abby Hinz, a public health nurse at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

Hinz wasn’t the only person to feel that way and her optimism seemed to be the norm among the people at the event.

“Not all of these issues can be solved by a single agency. It is really going to be up to the people like you who say, ‘Yup, we actually care about this conversation,’ ” said Elizabeth Giese, director of the Eau Claire’s City-County Health Department. “Come today, but keep coming and keep working with the community to do something different.”

Hinz said that this conversation specifically was helpful to her because it brought people together, having a supportive community is one of her biggest priorities.

“It is helpful in the sense that we’re bringing more voices to the table and new community members to the table,” Hinz said. “I think that is really important for people to have a better perspective on the work being done and how it is affecting the community.”

The focus for CHP’s next step is having a better understanding of the health concerns stemming from its constituents and creating a new sense of urgency for these needs.

When this process is finished, and all these issues are identified, the hope is that we have better teams to work on that moving forward,” Giese said. “Either the same teams getting some new information and some new energy and people to work on it, or we’ll have some different teams with new priorities that cover that.”

Giese said there is a mental health action team that is currently working on that topic as a priority and will continue after this assessment. Giese added this action group is working on a suicide prevention initiative all over Eau Claire County, as one example.

A written assessment will be published by CHP in May after it collects all the information from the surveys and community conversations. Once the data is gathered, a coalition will be organized to determine the biggest community health concerns and what can be done to change it.

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