County health assessment released, shows room for improvement

The Madison County Health Department recently released the county health assessment, which will help guide future health efforts in the county.

At the end of August, the Madison County Health Assessment was completed and represents more than a year’s worth of work in analyzing health needs in and demographics of Madison County, said Theresa Stack, Madison County Public Health Administrator.

The main idea behind the survey was to give the county an idea of the overall health of the county’s population and what needs exist in terms of health care services.

“It kind of identifies the place of where we’re lacking and where we have a little bit of a struggle,” said Harrison School Superintendent Darren Strauch, who is on the Madison County Board of Public Health and was a stakeholder in the development of the county health assessment.

Madison County is a pretty diverse place, Strauch said. Still, the health assessment identifies some of the universal issues, such as low-income housing problems, issues surrounding care of the senior population and adequate staffing for the county’s volunteer emergency services.

“It kind of gives us a framework of where we can go over the next five or 10 years,” he said.

Other problems the health assessment pointed out was the lack of mental health services and problems that may be related to that including binge drinking and suicide.

This lack of mental health services in Madison County is something Stack sees as a big issue.

There’s a stigma around mental health issues that keep people from seeking help, she said. However, the problem can be multigenerational and impact both children and adults and entire families.

The health assessment shows that Madison County’s binge drinking rate is 19 percent, which is higher than the state average of 17 percent. The county also has a higher suicide rate than the rest of Montana – 23.2 per 100,000 people as opposed to Montana’s rate of 20.3 people per 100,000.

And yet people still struggle to see mental health as a treatable illness, like cancer or diabetes, Stack said.

“People don’t see it as other health issues,” she said. “We see that as a stigma instead of something that can be treated by education, or going to counseling or possibly even drugs.”

The Madison Valley Medical Center is working with the University of Montana to provide regular mental health services, she said.
Now that the health needs assessment is complete, the next step will be to go back to the community and stakeholder group and begin to develop solutions, Stack said.

“We’re going to get together and we’re going to try very hard to close these gaps,” she said.

Out of this effort will come a Community Health Improvement Plan, which will be an outline of specific solutions to help improve the overall health of people in Madison County.

“We’ve identified a need and a gap in our services, now let’s try and put some fixes in place,” Stack said.

For more information on the Madison County Health Assessment, contact the public health department at 843-4295. A copy of the document can be found online here.

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