With the new year fast approaching, resolution season is coming into full swing. Just as individuals may consider areas to improve in the year ahead, Madison County health officials are charting a course to overcome the biggest barriers to a healthier community.
Public health officials joined community members November 15 inside the Cooperative Extension Center to identify the top health priorities needing attention over the next three years. After reviewing local statistics on eight health issues impacting Madison County, attendees voted to focus efforts in 2019 and beyond on three public health challenges: substance use, mental health and nutrition/physical activity.
The same challenges to countywide health and wellbeing were identified the last time the county completed the state-mandated Community Health Assessment process three years ago.
“All three are very complex issues,” Deputy Health Director Tammy Cody said after participants voted on which challenges they deemed most serious. “It’s no surprise that it has taken more than three years to make headway. We’re seeing the same issues challenging the region. In a meeting with health directors across the state, these issues were a common theme.”
A number of countywide efforts have launched in the last three years to tackle the three health challenges. Cody pointed to the growth of the Madison Substance Awareness Coalition, or MSAC, as a key group addressing substance use and mental health challenges locally. The local health department initiative brings together individuals and agencies on the front lines of the opioid crisis. The group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office at 9 a.m., also tackles mental health issues. MSAC grew out of the 2015 Community Health Assessment and has since launched Madison Prevention Partners, or MP3, which brings together middle and high school students to confront drug, nicotine and alcohol use among teens.
In addition to health department efforts, the focus on substance use in Madison County has also seen the start of a local chapter of Families Against Narcotics, a community-based program for those seeking recovery, those in recovery and family members affected by addition. The organization started in Michigan and the Madison County chapter is the first launched outside the Great Lakes state.
A special drug court for nonviolent offenders is another outgrowth of prioritizing substance use issues locally. The first session of the program in Madison County came November 27.
On the healthy eating and physical activity front, the health department launched the Healthy Eating, Active Living, or HEAL team, after first prioritizing nutrition efforts three years ago. The group played a part in introducing a partnership with the YMCA to bring free fresh fruit and produce to the Family Dollar strip mall on U.S. 25-70 each month. Called the Health Living Mobile Kitchen, the free food distribution will make its December stop in Marshall December 12 from 3-4 p.m.
Formally naming substance use, mental health and nutrition/physical activity again as the county’s public health challenges will again focus efforts to address each one. “It’s going to take the entire community to resolve any of these three issues,” Cody said. “They’re huge and not anything one group can solve on their own.”