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UW students do health check-up on coulee


University of Washington students, working for the Grant County Health District, interacted with the community members last week, asking what they think about health in relation to the area.

The students, about 15 in total, are in the Community-Oriented Public Health Practice program, earning their masters degrees at the University of Washington School of Public Health. The students attended a school board and a hospital board meeting, spoke to small business owners and people at the senior center, and held a public meeting at Grand Coulee City Hall.

“[Grant County Health District] asked us to come to the northern part of Grant County because they currently don’t have much information to help with this assessment,” said Leika Suzumura, a student in the program.

Suzumura explained that they want to get a well-rounded perspective on the topic of health in the area.

“We’re wanting to focus not just on what isn’t going well, but what is going well,” she said. “What are some things going on that people are proud of? What are things that are promoting health? And also concerns, because we want a balance.”

“Working in public health is very broad,” Suzumura explained about their field. “There are so many things you can do with it.”

She said another group is working in a rural county on immunization, another on teen health. Other may look at how jobs affect health. “I’m particularly interested in food and nutrition, so it’s a lot of different things,” she said.

The students asked questions of locals held at a public meeting at Grand Coulee City Hall Nov. 26. Attending were five local residents, including Electric City Councilmember Birdie Hensley, USBR Visitor Center employee Ivan Snavely, Electric City Councilmember and Care & Share Food Bank organizer Carol Nordine, school board member George LaPlace and his wife, Cathy, and a reporter.

During the meeting, locals discussed positive health aspects of the community (outdoor activities) as well as areas found lacking (alcohol/drug use, lack of healthier food). One topic of discussion covered what locals would like to see in the next 10 years. That list that includes senior housing and a health-and-wellness center, but also includes things that aren’t obviously linked to health, such as consolidation, a movie theater, and secondary education.

After making these lists, locals and the students discussed the problems and solutions in more detail.

One problem that came up is a perceived lack of attention from the various counties of which this area is a part.

“What we have to do as a community, it’s like we have to do it ourselves, because we’re too far from anyone else for them to care about us too much,” said George LaPlace. “We need to partner with each other with the resources we have to do what we can. Because how long have we been waiting for Grant County to fix things?”

“There is the fact that we are not just one town, we are several towns in several counties,” said Cathy LaPlace. “So that makes things a lot more complicated. So I think this is a great barrier to solving these problems. I know there are talks of consolidating the towns.”

“If we consolidate, maybe we can see which county will give us the best deal!” George LaPlace said.

Another topic is that of holding current resources to higher standards.

“I think we have resources here; we just haven’t looked into having them be better for us,” Nordine said. “We have mental health, but it’s not enough; it touches the surface, it doesn’t go any deeper. … We need to fix people, not just put a Band-Aid on them and send them out the door.”

Snavely raised the issue of drug problems occuring in areas out of the jurisdiction of local police, thus going unaddressed. “That’s an interesting situation,” Snavely said.

And, like many problems, it comes down to a lack of money.

“We don’t have a tax base,” George LaPlace said. “It’s either bureau land, National Park Service land, state land, reservation land, so you’re limited to a tax base for basic services. Even the hospital, if you look at the border they did for the hospital [district], it’s done so if someone has farm land or expensive property, they don’t have to pay into it.”

The students explained that they would be taking the information, writing reports, presenting them to the GCHD, and that they would like to return to present their findings to the community.

“It was a great opportunity to hear from local folks who really understand the strengths, needs, and long-term challenges of the community,” said Sharon Bogan, faculty facilitator for the program. “It’s great for the students to really understand what it’s like to address the complex rural health challenges.”

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