Residents say behavioral health remains the top health issue in the Yampa Valley

Mary Brown puts a note on a bulletin board in March during a community member induction meeting. These spring 2022 member induction meetings were part of the information gathering process for the recently released 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment.
Susie Romig/steamer pilot still today

Mental health is a leading cause of hospitalizations in the Yampa Valley, ranking ahead of heart disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, all injuries and stroke.

So it makes sense that the top health priority identified in the recently released 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) is behavioral health, which includes mental health.

“Using the three-year combined estimate from 2018 to 2020, mental health is the number one cause of hospitalization, followed by heart disease in the region,” the CHNA report noted.



The hospitalization rate in Moffat County was significantly higher at a ratio of 3,273 per 100,000 residents compared to a ratio of 2,352 in the region and 2,837 per 100,000 in Colorado, the report noted.

Survey respondents said the top four health problems in the Yampa Valley are related to behavioral health, including drug or substance use, abuse and misuse according to 67% of respondents, poor mental health (52%), suicide and suicidality (50%) and social isolation (21%). The drugs of greatest concern to community members were opioids (68%), alcohol (56%), amphetamines (49%) and methamphetamines (45%).



“None of the information that was shared at CHNA was really surprising. This validates the experiences of residents and providers in the Yampa Valley,” said Brittney Wilburn, executive director of the nonprofit The Health Partnership, a lead partner in the study.

“My sense is that COVID has compounded the issues,” Wilburn said. “I think what we do over the next three years will historically show the impact of COVID. The experience that providers and people have specifically about accessing mental health services has increased.”

Mental health is an issue among both adults and youth in the Yampa Valley. For example, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey The data noted that high school students experiencing depressive symptoms increased significantly in the region to 31.5% between 2015 and 2019, up from 23.3% previously.

Wilburn said that as more Valley residents have more mental health needs, “we find ourselves in a sad situation.”

“The medical and behavioral health providers needed for this work cannot afford to live here and provide the services that are needed in our community,” Wilburn said. “We have to be creative in finding how to meet the medical and behavioral needs of the community.”

The recently released 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment included community meetings, community survey results, public health data and socioeconomic data.
Photo courtesy of Partnership for Health/Courtesy

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines behavioral health as the promotion of emotional health, prevention of mental illness and substance use disorders, and treatment and services for mental and/or substance use disorders .

Wilburn said she finds the connection between behavioral health and chronic disease “really interesting.”

“Many associations exist between behavioral health and other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and arthritis, so in prioritizing behavioral health, the Yampa Valley will also address chronic disease prevalence,” the report noted .

The second health priority identified in the assessment is access to culturally and linguistically responsive care.

“Access to care that is culturally and linguistically responsive and the challenge of not having enough providers is exacerbated for populations in the Yampa Valley with language and/or cultural barriers to care,” the report noted. For example, members of the Latino or Spanish-speaking community noted “feeling that providers think they tend to complain or take too long at visits.”

“This is a fundamental health equity issue. It is critical that everyone in the community has access to high-quality, dignified care,” Wilburn said.

The report also highlights some key priority drivers of health that are not surprising, such as buying food in the region is more expensive, housing costs are displacing people and high-wage jobs are hard to find. The report notes that some residents also find it more difficult to meet their basic needs because public transportation is not available in all parts of the valley.

The Community Health Needs Assessment provides an opportunity for public health agencies, hospitals, community health centers and other vital partners to identify health priorities and assist the Yampa Valley in program planning and resource allocation over the next three to five years. Partner agencies will use the evaluation data, including Northwest Colorado Health, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, Routt County Public Health, United Way and Memorial Regional Health in Craig.

For this year’s CHNA report, which is completed every three years, a robust sample of 1,167 community members responded to the survey. The report also showed cancer, chronic disease and preventable or unintentional injuries as other community concerns.

The CHNA study was conducted from November 2021 to June 2022 and included community meetings, community survey results, public health data, and socioeconomic data. The report was prepared by Health Management Associates in Denver.

The full report is posted online at thehealthpartnership.org/chna.

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