The Kiowa Town Hall was the first of four stops in the Colorado Health Foundation's two-day Eastern Plains Listening Tour. On Feb. 22, community leaders from Kiowa met with the foundation's president and CEO Karen McNeil-Miller to discuss the pros and cons of rural living as they pertain to the general health of residents.
McNeil-Miller emphasized the notion that health goes well beyond what happens between patients and doctors and that leaders influence the health of their communities through the decisions they make.
“For most people in the community that are decision-makers, many of the decisions they have to make have a health impact or a health outcome attached to them,” she said. “If they can think about that as they are making those decisions, look through a health lens, it can go a long way in moving their community forward.”
Kiowa Trustee Larry Perreault, county 4-H assistant Lore Denson, Elbert County Coalition for Outreach director Pam Witucki and Kiowa Town Administrator Michelle Oeser offered several of Elbert County's outdoor activities, such as 4-H, as examples of programs contributing to healthy living, but also expressed concerns for health challenges common to many rural communities.
“We are hearing many common themes, behavioral health, mental health and substance abuse being at the top of the list, access to care being next,” said McNeil-Miller. “In the rural communities it's `We just need a doctor nearby.' In some of the more resourced communities it's `We have plenty of docs, but nobody's taking Medicaid or additional Medicare patients.'”
McNeil-Miller launched her statewide listening tour a month after taking over the top position at the foundation in September 2015.
After the stops in Kiowa, Limon, Burlington and Cheyenne Wells on Feb. 22 and 23, the tour had reached 63 of Colorado's 64 counties in a circuit designed to identify the health needs of Coloradoans and fulfill the Denver-based nonprofit's vision of “making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation.”
“I wanted to understand the state as deeply as I possibly could, around the nuances of the location, what the communities look like, what their struggles are,” McNeil-Miller said, “because the headline may be the same in every community. The headlines may be that you don't have a good safe place for kids to play, there aren't enough activities.”
According to its website, the Colorado Health Foundation is a nonprofit organization that advocates for health policies within the public and private sectors; it also issues grants in furtherance of healthy communities and health education.
The foundation has already been active in Kiowa, sponsoring a community garden and providing a $175,000 grant in 2013 for exercise stations in Fawn Valley Park.
Though access to health care and transportation for seniors was a concern during the discussions, the issue of general well-being also became central to the conversation in Kiowa, including the practicality of a community recreation center to provide activities central to a healthy lifestyle.
“In Kiowa, it was striking that there isn't … any kind of spot for families to congregate and work out. There is not a health center; there is not what they called a recreation center. So there is not that hub for physical activity,” McNeil-Miller said.
McNeil-Miller said that many communities use rec centers as a hub for additional activities to promote healthy living, and her foundation would be open to discussions about a possible grant to further that goal, provided the local community was committed to the project and “had some skin in the game.”