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Gallatin County communities join together to talk health - West Yellowstone News Online: News

Gallatin County communities join together to talk health

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Posted: Friday, January 20, 2012 10:35 am

Health is a multifaceted topic practically as old as time.

At the very least, it is tied in age with the Gallatin City-County Health Department's public health records.

Matt Kelley, health officer for the Gallatin City-County Health Department, held up leather bound books containing the handwritten concerns regarding health in Gallatin County and reports of cases dating back to the days of Smallpox.

Health Department workers, representatives from Community Health Partners and Bozeman Deaconess Hospital hosted a meeting last Friday at the Bozeman Public Library to kick off their "Healthy Gallatin" community health planning process.

Community members, health advocates and seasoned veterans in the field of public health gathered around the tables inside the large community meeting room, where a discussion about health carried on for almost five hours.

The purpose of the meeting was to initiate a community-wide conversation on the future of the health of Gallatin County, according to Sarah Compton, of the Health Department.

"We've been doing some work gathering some data about what is healthy and unhealthy in our community," Kelley said. "We're going to go out and have continuing conversations because every community isn't the same.

Kelley noted that the huge value of Friday's meeting was the beginnings of being able to put down on paper the values that the community wants to go forward with.

"It's not necessarily a specific action plan, we can start to formulate a (vision) statement that can be fine tuned in the future," he said on Tuesday. "People in communities, like West Yellowstone, can come together and start talking about specific needs of their community."

Kelley made it clear that Gallatin County wants to hear what the public has to say and that's what local health departments across the country are starting to work on.

"We're kind of a part of that movement. This is kind of a part of a national movement to make sure that health departments are listening closely to the communities that they serve. We think it's important," he said.

The Gallatin County City-County Health Department isn't bound to a set timeframe to get the project done, but recognizes that it's something they haven't evaluated in a significant amount of time.

"The first step in any health improvement plan is identifying what the issues are," Bozeman Deaconess Hospital board chief strategy and business development officer Cheryl Ridgely said at the opening of the meeting.

Facilitators from the Montana State University Local Government Center joined the conversations at Friday's meeting and almost 100 people went around the room and made short 30-second introductions about who they were, what they were representing and what stood out to them the most about Friday's hot topic of health.

Facilitators included Local Government Center director Dan Clark and associate director Betsy Webb.

Health concerns struck on anything from parks and recreations, sewage and water, public health, physical and mental health and how those are all interconnected.

One participant was surprised to learn that Gallatin County is the healthiest county in Montana, but also has the highest suicide rate in the state.

"I thought it was an incredible idea to have a meeting like that," Kathi Arnado, of the West Yellowstone Job and Social Services office, said. "We were there representing our people. It seemed like people wanted ways for accessing programs quicker and easier, like we do here."

Participants spent the rest of the afternoon breaking into small groups of eight to 10 people and worked on creating a shared vision for health needs.

"I don't think community health improvement works, or matters much, if you don't involve the community in the conversation," Kelley said. "That was the initial conversation. We were hoping for all the responses. We're a diverse community, which is why the process will take some time."

Discussions and the steps to create a community health improvement plan will continue throughout the next year and with time will come a specific vision statement for the plan.

Contact Sarah Compton at the Gallatin City-County Health Department with questions or to find out more information about the community health improvement plan at (406) 582-3119.

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