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New website, jeffcoconnects.org, and other outreach aim to improve county residents' health.

HOLLY M. GILL/MADRAS PIONEER - Americorps volunteer Courtney Barks, left, and Beth Ann Beamer, both with the Jefferson County Health Department, play key roles in the new outreach program the department is undertaking. Beamer is heading up the project.
The Jefferson County Public Health Department and its local partners are introducing two new outreach projects this month aimed at improving the overall health of county residents.

The first, which had a soft launch in January, is a bilingual community website — jeffcoconnects.org — that enables Jefferson County organizations to share news, promote events, and recruit volunteers. Parts of the website are still under construction, but businesses and nonprofits have already begun to add their information.

The health department's other project is a visioning process that will involve citizens from all over Jefferson County. The department will organize a series of meetings at which participants will brainstorm and prioritize health-related concerns and ideas.

The first meeting will be in Madras at the COCC campus from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.

"We know a lot about our health indicators," said health department nurse Beth Ann Beamer, who is heading up the project. "What we don't know is what's important to local community members," she said.

Both the website and the visioning project grew out of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, which assesses public health in every county in the United States and ranks each county within its state. Jefferson County has landed at or near the bottom of the statewide ranking since it began in 2011.

Foundation offers advice

Two years ago, the health department sought coaching from the Johnson Foundation in how to improve Jefferson County's chronically poor public health indicators. One piece of information gleaned from that and other sources was that people live longer, healthier lives when they have strong connections with community and family.

"Community connection can create health and wellness benefits for individuals, families and the region," Beamer said.

The health department found a good partner in the Jefferson County Faith-Based Network because the network was already very active in the community and was already exploring how to address problems like homelessness through prevention.

The partnership got a boost from training provided to Beamer and Faith-Based Network board member Dana St. John by the Ford Family Foundation in how to strengthen communities.

"One of the opportunities we learned about in the Ford Family Foundation training was the website," said St. John. "They provided the technical support and the website template, and it was kind of a matter of us filling in the information specific to Jefferson County," she said.

The health department's AmeriCorps volunteer, Courtney Barks, is the website coordinator. The Ford Family Foundation will pay to host the website and provide technical support indefinitely.

The foundation is providing the same template and technical service for several other communities in rural Oregon, including the Applegate River area, Klamath County and the Siuslaw River region.

Anybody can access jeffcoconnects.org to check the events calendar, find a business or service, or look for volunteer opportunities, but to add content, users must first register and log in. The website has a press release function that enables a registered user to create and distribute information about events or activities.

Through the efforts of the health department and the Faith-Based Network, the JeffCoConnects Community Network has grown to include the Native Aspirations Prevention Coalition, St. Charles Madras, the Jefferson County Historical Society, the Latino Community Association, the Madras Aquatic Center, the city of Madras, BestCare, and others.

After the training from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Ford Family Foundation concluded, the community network remained in place, ready for action. "We needed to have a project to give us a sense of direction," Beamer said. So, the health department asked the network to help with its visioning process.

The network organizations will provide representatives to serve as group facilitators and invite individuals from within their spheres of influence to participate in the visioning sessions. The goal is to include people from all walks of life in order to get varied perspectives.

Members of the general public who don't receive an invitation are welcome to join in, but are asked to RSVP ahead of time for planning purposes. To RSVP, leave a message for Beth Ann Beamer at 541-475-4456, ext. 4224, preferably by Friday, April 19.

The April 23 session in Madras will include a "healthy-ish" meal, Beamer said.

The meeting in Warm Springs is scheduled for May 14, at the Agency Longhouse. Dates and locations of meetings in other communities are yet to be determined.

Visioning similar to 2006-07 effort

The visioning process will be similar to the one Beamer conducted from 2006-2007 while working with the Community Health Improvement Partnership at Mountain View Hospital (now St. Charles Madras).

"We will be able to compare the new data with the CHIP data. Much has changed," Beamer said, noting that the MAC has since opened, and the Affordable Care Act was implemented. Dental care was a priority then, but now more people have access to quality dental care, Beamer said.

The visioning sessions will use nominal group technique, a system in which participants break into small groups, with a facilitator for each group. Participants will be asked to write down their ideas, share the ideas with the rest of the group and then use a weighted voting system to rank the ideas.

Once the visioning process is complete, the network will look to translate some of the resulting hopes and ideas into action.

"At the end of the summer, when we have had all of our meetings, our main network group will get together and look at the priorities and also consider our health indicators from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Then we will, in partnership with the county and local communities, come up with our action items," Beamer said.

"Perhaps we will find that there is one thing that is important to all the communities in common. But it may be that there will be different needs," Beamer said.

As far as what might come out of the visioning process, Beamer is keeping an open mind. "Do we look at what we think is pie in the sky? Do we think big? Maybe. We can choose to limit ourselves or we can choose to cast a broad, exciting net," she said.


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