PORT TOWNSEND — Health officials hope to discover what issues members of the public think are most important so that Jefferson County Public Health and Jefferson Healthcare can focus efforts on providing medical services that reflect the needs of the community.
So they have created a questionnaire that can be filled out online or at community forums, are soliciting input at the forums and consulting with local experts.
The information is for the updated Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) which will drive health priorities for the county for the next four to five years. The assessment will take place throughout May.
The first forum will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Dirksen Room at Jefferson Healthcare, 834 Sheridan St., in Port Townsend.
The second forum will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 15 at Fire Station 1, 9193 Rhody Drive in Chimacum and the second is planned from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., May 29 at the Quilcene Community Center, 294952 U.S. Highway 101.
John Nowak, co-executive director of CHIP, said that proverbially taking the temperature of the community is valuable in setting priorities and goals. The last CHIP, completed in 2016, identified four priorities for health — mental health and substance use disorder, access to care, immunizations and chronic disease prevention, and healthy living.
“This CHIP assessment is intended to do a few things,” Nowak said.
“It will let us know if we have been improving the health of our community by looking at quantitative date such as people’s life expectancy and how much exercise they get, premature mortality, and if respondents are up-to-date with immunizations,” he added.
“We want to get qualitative data as well. The community survey is part of that. We’re hoping as many people as possible will respond. It helps us make better informed decisions about prioritizing our community health improvement plan.”
Nowak said Jefferson’s population is a reflection of where the United States will be in a few years because of the plethora of baby boomers, so “we are just ahead of the curve.”
With a population of 28,000, Jefferson County is home to the oldest population in Washington state, with an average age of 57. Jefferson is the sixth oldest county in the United States.
“When we look at the health issues in this community, we’ll keep in mind the health issues older residents face which is pretty important,” Nowak said.
The survey also addresses income, an important issue that was prominently revealed during the last assessment.
“We were the last county in Washington to provide Medicaid dental coverage. When information came out in the survey, Jefferson Healthcare took action and will be opening a dental clinic in June that’s primarily focused on those patients,” Nowak said.
“Without that information from that first assessment, we wouldn’t have learned that there was a significant issue with dental coverage in the community.”
Nowak said there have been significant mental health issues revealed because of awareness of the first assessment. And, because of the result of immunization data, Port Townsend High School will not allow students who are not immunized to attend classes.
“Date does inform people’s thoughts and it does lead to change” he said. “It has been really healthy for our community.”
For more information, contact Bernadette Smyth at Jefferson Public Health at 360-379-4478 or [email protected].
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].