Andrea Carlstrom

It’s that time of year again when we celebrate our local public health system!  And, whether you consider yourself and the work you do as public health or not, the theme of this year’s National Public Health Week, observed April 1-7, 2024, is “Protecting, Connecting, and Thriving:  We Are All Public Health.”  This includes you.  Throughout this week, public health professionals encourage everyone to make small changes to improve their health. These decisions are personal and are going to mean different things to each individual and household.  

Public health is more than just health care.  It’s the steps we take to make sure our neighborhoods and environment are free from pollution. It’s making sure our food and water are safe to eat and drink. It’s making tough decisions during times of uncertainty.  It’s helping individuals take steps to protect their health now and in the future.  It’s also the relationships we foster in our communities. We’re all interconnected. When we all come together to support public health, all of us — individuals, families, communities and the public health field — can achieve the goals of public health. Who doesn’t want their community to be the healthiest and happiest possible?

I have never been prouder to serve my community as Director of Chaffee County Public Health.  While always presenting its unique and unexpected challenges, our department’s spirit is unwavering, our team is exceptional, and our programs do make a difference in the lives of those who choose to participate in them.  While the sector of public health will likely always be met with some level of adversity, our calling has never been more genuine and transparent.  

With over 30 free or cost-conscious programs and initiatives that offer something for everyone, Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) is working to improve the community’s health and wellness through prevention, promotion, and protection.  Our vision is that all people in Chaffee County have opportunities to achieve healthy and connected lives in a community that embraces every aspect of health and well-being.  Through reverence, integrity, advocacy, and strategy, CCPH continues to assess health needs and gaps in our county and develop and implement innovative programming so that the public experiences as few barriers as possible to access the care they desire.  

Public health programming in Chaffee County continues to be in high demand with participation in programs including Nourish (formerly Healthy Start), National Diabetes Prevention Program, Colorado Heart Healthy Solutions, Aging Well, Health Navigation, Harm Reduction, STI/HIV Testing, Oral Health, Environmental Health, Worksite Wellness, Connect for Health Colorado, Child Passenger Safety, Healthy Homes, and so much more.  CCPH has a robust immunization program that not only offers regular vaccines for all ages but also to those recommended and required for international travel (the only travel clinic in the region).  Immunizations are evidence-based disease prevention strategies for population health, and these, together with scientific and technological advances, have played a major role in reducing, and in some cases eliminating, the spread of infectious disease while establishing today’s disease surveillance and control systems.  Staying up to date with vaccinations is a personal choice, and we respect that.

While the nation’s public health system was crippled by the conflicting views on the COVID-19 pandemic, Chaffee County’s local public health system remained strong and resilient despite scrutiny and opposition.  In its 2021 Community Health Assessment, it was evident that the pandemic negatively impacted our county’s physical, mental, and social health.  However, it also demonstrated that we live and serve in a county that cares about each other and is concerned about many aspects of health and wellness.  We will be launching an Access to Healthcare survey in April to better understand our community’s strengths and opportunities for improvement in which we hope you all participate in.  If anyone can improve our healthcare landscape, the coordinated and collaborative spirit of Chaffee County can.

CCPH strives to use a health equity lens in all of our programs, services, and policies, and we treat everyone with dignity, respect, and humility regardless of how long they have lived or been in the county, where they came from, or what their life circumstance has been.  Public health officials and professionals are assuming the role of chief health strategists in their local communities, and we are meant to serve every human being who is part of the community without stigma or judgment.  I recognize that this can generate lots of emotions that even I feel at times.  If you ever feel the need to share your perspective, please call or e-mail me. Let’s have a conversation.  We are all on this journey together.  I learn things every day and take a data-driven, evidence-based approach to how we navigate public health here in our beloved Arkansas Valley.

We are grateful for the unwavering support of our community, including our Board of County Commissioners/Board of Health’s recent recognition through a proclamation.  Let’s observe this week by all of us having a better understanding of the value of public health, our healthcare system, and supporting great opportunities to adopt preventative lifestyle habits to eventually say that we are the healthiest in Colorado!