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Demographics, economy affect community health

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When considering the health of Delta County, our thoughts often turn to the loss of providers, the wait time for appointments, or the escalating cost of health insurance.

Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Colorado Health Foundation, takes a broader approach. She recently conducted a listening tour in Delta as part of a statewide effort to hear from residents and decision makers about how their comunities approach and view health.

The listening tour was hosted by A KidZ Clinic, a school-based health clinic that provides medical and behavioral health services for students throughout the county.

McNeil-Miller brought with her a report card that spotlights the data that plays a role in the health of the community, from economic factors to the demographics of the county.

"Many of the barriers to a healthy community have nothing to do with health care," she told audience members, many of whom work in the medical field.

She pointed to the median age in Delta County -- 47.3 compared to Colorado's 36.5.

Just 47.2 percent of area adults between 25 and 44 have some post-secondary education; the state rate is 70 percent.

Economically, the average hourly wage in Delta County is 41 percent lower than the state average of $26.78. Over 15 percent of residents live in poverty, though one person in the audience cited a 2013 survey that says half the children in Delta County are living in poverty.

"Money matters," the report card states. "Good jobs and wages provide the resources needed to build healthy lives."

In addition to economic factors and an aging population, other challenges to healthy communities were identified by audience members. The Affordable Care Act is not only impacting the ability of businesses to provide employee health insurance, many medical providers find themselves ill equipped to deal with the complex business demands. Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements also play a role. Because reimbursement rates are so low for small clinics, many providers do not accept Medicaid or Medicare patients. While over 90 percent of Delta County residents have health insurance, it's either Medicaid/Medicare, or policies with high deductibles. Now we have a "new insured," but they're not accessing health care because they can't afford the co-pays or because they can't find a physician who will accept Medicaid/Medicare, one participant noted.

On the plus side, Delta County residents have access to healthy food, physical activity, good schools, supportive family relationships and close-knit communities. All contribute to a healthy community.

The broadband project was mentioned as a means of creating economic opportunities that would allow younger, educated professionals to live and do business in Delta County. Without high speed Internet, it's also difficult to share electronic medical records.

The Colorado Health Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose vision is to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation through grantmaking, public policy and advocacy, private sector engagement, strategic communications, evaluation for learning and assessment and by operating primary care residency training programs. Its partners include nonprofits, health care leaders, policy makers, educators and the private sector. The Colorado Health Foundation funded the startup of Families Plus and A KidZ Clinic.

More information and the complete report card for Delta County can be found at www.coloradohealth.org.

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