Community sounds off on public health at forum

Published 10:30 am Friday, December 2, 2022

The Clark County Extension Office on Wednesday morning featured Mayor Ed Burtner, Clark County Judge Executive Henry Branham, Chief James Hall of the Winchester Police Department, Chief Chris Whiteley of the Winchester Fire Department, Brett Cheuvront of The Greater Clark Foundation, Lindsey Horseman of Achieving Recovery Together, and many other names.

No, there was, thankfully, not an immediate emergency.

Instead, they gathered for a Winchester-Clark County Community Health Forum geared toward discussing information and providing education about the needs of Clark County.

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“There’s a lot of perspectives that they’ve brought to the table that I think [demonstrate] we all see issues, but we see them from a different lens,” said Becky Kissick, Clark County’s public health director. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout that we have today because I think it’s really representative. This community really cares about one another, and they want to work together.”

Every five years, it is recommended that data related to community health get reviewed to determine needs, areas to focus on, and steps to take next.

Unfortunately, though the most recent event was in 2016, the COVID-19 pandemic led to somewhat of a delay.

However, Wednesday’s results proved fruitful, as over 60 were in attendance.

“It was a really great morning pulling the community back together [and] talking about the things we’ve accomplished since that 2016 assessment, as well as identifying those things that were going on that took a sideline because of [the] COVID response”, said Jennifer Gulley of the health department.

Because this was the first forum post-COVID, they spent time discussing what was learned about the community during and following the pandemic.

Speakers noted that the community was forced to be measured, showing resilience in their ability to respond.

Also, credit was given to the Clark County Public School System, which responded strongly during the pandemic for the needs of students and others.

While those present provided several answers directly, the community received responses in other ways.

The photovoice research project was presented with four groups and over 20 people taking part.

“Photovoice is a method designed to help community members not only describe what they know about what their community’s strengths and concerns are but to help us bring that into people’s perspectives,” said Dr. Margaret McGladery, Ph.D. of the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida. “People are taking photos, sharing these photos, and having creative conversations and focus groups about not only what we’re seeing and how common the issues we are seeing in these photos [are], but…why we’re seeing those issues and what are some of the reasons and the causal factors that we could identify together.”

Interestingly, there is overlap.

For example, several photos of Heritage Park had been taken when considering community strengths, while images suggesting concerns over substance abuse or housing crises also were repeated.

Photovoice has incorporated multiple individuals, some of whom may otherwise not be so comfortable speaking out.

“Everybody has something to contribute when it comes to building our knowledge of what our community health looks like,” McGladery said. “What I love about photovoice is that it kind of breaks down those barriers that we sometimes even put up on ourselves…you’re seeing and feeling things that other people need to know and understand as well.”

While provided with data, those in attendance mentioned information they’re interested in continuing to learn more about.

Among the topics were water pollution, pre-natal care, vaping numbers, poverty levels, healthy food choices, and more.

April Nelson, a health promotion specialist at the Clark County Health Department and a former youth outreach director at Achieving Recovery Together, mentioned wanting to know more about providing help for high-risk children.

While there is always room for improvement, the information provided continues to inform those who look after and work to keep the community strong.

“From a fire and EMS perspective, it helps us identify known as well as unknown problems or issues within the community,” said Winchester Fire Chief Chris Whiteley. “[It] helps us strategically respond to those when need be.”

Wednesday’s Winchester-Clark County Community Health Forum is one of two scheduled, with the next being on Wednesday, Dec. 14.