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McLean County Health Plan Seeks Root Causes For Poor Health

Veggie Oasis
Eric Stock
Isaac Simmons collects unsold produce at the Bloomington Farmer's Market to deliver to the West Bloomington Revitalization Project to redistribute through Veggie Oasis.

McLean County's new community health improvement plan(CHIP) aims to get to the underlying causes of mental health and substance abuse problems.
CHIP is an initiative that involves more than 50 stakeholders from throughout the county in everything from education to law enforcement to social services.

Cathy Coverston Anderson and Sally Gambacorta
Credit McLean Co. Health Dept./Advocate BroMenn Medical Center
Cathy Coverston Anderson (left) and Sally Gambacorta are part of the Community Health Improvement Plan steering committee that's implementing changes to address mental health, access to health care and healthy eating and active living.

Sally Gambacorta, community health director for Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital, is part of the steering committee that has laid out a three-year plan to reduce rates for suicides, drug poisoning and binge drinking.

“Adverse childhood experiences and trauma is a root cause across health outcomes, substance use, everything,” Gambacorta said. “We have many great initiatives that are happening in our community, but this will help pull a lot of those together.”

Gambacorta said the county’s first community health plan showed a decrease from 22 suicides in 2015 to 16 in 2018, along with a drop in binge drinking and alcohol abuse among adolescents and adults.

She cautioned the emergence of vaping and legal marijuana could call for a more comprehensive response.

Gambacorta said the group is planning several new interventions, including a trauma collaborative that aims to show how traumatic experiences such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse can impact someone’s mental health and risk for substance abuse.

Three Main Priorities

The health plan addresses three main priorities: mental health, access to care and healthy eating and active living.

Cathy Coverston Anderson, McLean County Health Department assistant director, is on the steering committee. She said on WGLT's Sound Ideas the report calls for greater efforts to help higher risk populations find a medical home, including connecting them with community-based care and transportation when needed, to reduce emergency room visits.

“We begin to meet with them and support them with linking them to care and the follow up needed to assure they are able to access that care on a regular basis,” Coverston Anderson said.

The report indicates 19% of residents in higher risk populations identified the emergency room as their main choice for medical care, compared to just 3% of the general population.

Gambacorta said the plan addresses ways to improve food insecurity for residents who lack the money or access to healthy food and exercise options.

“We are looking at the social determinants of health in the built environment as well as what people traditionally think of as ‘I need to eat healthy and I need to exercise,’ because there are other components that do affect that,” Gambacorta said.

Coverston Anderson said the committee will inventory each of the programs that already exist in the county, see how they could be improved and consider where exist that new initiatives could fill.

“Is there a way to make what’s in those healthier for the children and the families that they serve?” she said.

Coverston Anderson said the data the report compiles every four years is also a community resource. Human service organizations and others throughout the county can use its data to apply for public and private grants and sharpen their response focuses.

FULL interview

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.