By EILEEN WHALEN
President and Chief Operating Officer, UVMMC

Last week, the UVM Medical Center officially declared an end to flu season. While that doesn’t mean no one will come in with a case of influenza, it does mean that the number of cases we see has dwindled greatly. To me, that announcement is a welcome sign that winter must really be over!

By now we’ve learned that health isn’t about just trying to avoid the flu for 6 months in Vermont. It’s influenced by so many factors. We know that to maintain our own health, it’s important to eat foods that nourish us, get a good night’s sleep, and limit unhealthy behaviors. But what can we do to improve the health of our whole community?

Improving the health of our community actually looks a lot like improving our own personal health. It means taking a wide view of all the different things impacting our neighbors, coworkers and friends, and making a plan to do better. In Chittenden and Grand Isle counties, where so many amazing organizations are working on so many different issues, this happens in a number of ways.

One important way we take stock of our community’s health is by conducting a “Community Health Needs Assessment” every three years. By hosting focus groups, discussions at a community breakfast, detailed community leader interviews, and putting out a survey, we are able to identify priorities that may be negatively impacting our neighbors and ourselves. Some of the needs that come up might not even appear to be health-related at first glance, but by now we understand that things like housing, transportation and groceries are interconnected with people’s ability to maintain and improve health.

In 2016, the “top 10” needs identified by the community (in alphabetical order, not order of importance) were: access to healthy food, affordable housing, chronic conditions, early childhood and family supports, economic opportunities, healthy aging, mental health, oral health, sexually transmitted infections and teen births, and substance abuse. Based on the needs identified in the survey, we build partnerships and invest in projects that will improve people’s lives.

When we know our challenges, we are better able to face them. This week the UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Investment Fund proudly announced three new “collective impact” grants, awarded to organizations who are banding together to increase their impact on important issues. These partnerships are great examples of what we can do when we plan based on the real needs of our community.

In June, we will open our 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, and I hope you will take part, along with a wonderful mix of health and social services organizations. If you’d like to participate in the survey, please email me at AskEileen@UVMHealth.org.

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Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, is a former trauma nurse who now leads The University of Vermont Medical Center. She currently serves as co-chair of the RiseVT board, and co-chair of the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance board.