With approximately seven months under their belts, three workgroups, tasked with improving health in Frederick County, are moving from planning to action.

The process for the Local Health Improvement Plan, which sets the health priorities for the county on a three-year cycle, began in January. Behavioral health (comprised of suicide, mental health and substance use), chronic health and adverse childhood events/infant mortality were selected as the three priorities.

This is the second time that behavioral health and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been part of the Local Health Improvement Plan, although there were additional topics added to them. This gave a good foundation for each of the groups to start their action plans.

The ACEs/infant mortality group will host a We Design Summit with the Harvard Center on the Developing Child in October. The members of the group will discuss using science to improve outcomes for children, said Pilar Olivo, the head of the ACEs workgroup. The workshop is funded with help from the Maryland Department of Education.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of stuff going on,” Olivo said. “I have to say from the perspective of the ACEs workgroup, we have a huge amount that’s going to be unfolding over the next year.”

There has been a greater understanding about ACEs over the past couple of years and their effects on the future of Frederick County, she said.

While the LHIP runs on a three-year cycle, the ACEs workgroup will need between seven to 10 years for a strong foundation, Olivo said.

“What we are working on in the short term to lay the framework for work later on is adopting shared language and knowledge,” she said. “We’re working on identifying and creating opportunities for people who are working in our systems to change practice and behavior. And we want to increase the skills and services that really help children and families develop resiliency.”

But while there’s a lot in the works, Olivo said there is still more education that needs to be done.

“I think people get that having bad things happen to you affects you,” she said. “But I don’t know that people understand that it affects, that it actually can affect your brain architecture and how your brain is built.”

Going forward, Olivo and the workgroup also want to help bring lessons on resiliency to Frederick County.

The behavioral health workgroup is also moving toward action, having finished writing its action plan, said Jonathan Switzer, the co-leader. Each of the three subgroups have work on them.

For suicide, the workgroup’s goal is to make the county more suicide safe, he said. That includes teaching county officials and professionals to better understand the dangers of suicide and how to engage in potential situations where someone is thinking about killing themselves.

The mental health subgroup is looking about access and where there is a need, he said. This includes looking at the barriers to access and how access to care can be improved.

The substance use subgroup is looking to create a database using data from Frederick County stakeholders to be able to have targeted efforts. It is also looking to provide policies and training for Frederick County employers so that there is a stronger community around those working through recovery or substance use, Switzer said.

The substance use workgroup also has goals with seniors who use opioids. This carries over from the last LHIP cycle, when senior care was one of the priorities, he said.

Frederick Memorial Hospital is one of the partners with the LHIP, including with the plans for the behavioral health workgroup, Switzer said.

They are also a partner with the chronic health workgroup, led by two employees with the Frederick Regional Health System.

The chronic health group was the largest priority after the planning summit. The group decided to focus on colorectal cancer screening and youth obesity, splitting into two subgroups, said Heather Kirby, vice president of Integrated Care Delivery.

In deciding what to focus on, the group looked at where disparities existed, the Community Health Needs Assessment and where work already existed, among others, Kirby said. That was done through a grid that used data from the planning summit and other health factors.

Each group meets monthly, and at the next meeting, they will finalize their action plans, Kirby said.

Like with the other groups, the hospital has been a partner in creating and the future implementation, she said. It already has resources dedicated to increasing colorectal cancer education and the hospital’s Live Well Campaign is targeting youth and adult obesity.

The colorectal cancer screening group looks at how to increase screening and education. Once it sets up additional screening, it will also implement ways to provide hypertension screening since people will already be there for health screening, she said.

“It just makes sense that if we have a captive audience, that we’re screening or talking about screening, that there is an opportunity to incorporate hypertension screening as well,” she said.

The youth obesity subgroup is looking to target middle school students to see how they can measure behaviors and any changes by the time they enter high school.

Although the chronic health group is the newcomer with the LHIP, neither Heather Kirby nor co-leader Diane Tomasky, also with Frederick Memorial Hospital, think that put the group at a disadvantage. The group had a solid foundation thanks to work already in place by community partners, they said.

“So I feel like we really had already found a rhythm in both of these topics. Not that we’re there yet,” Kirby said. “There’s still a lot of work to do. But I do feel like we really came into it with a good foundation, it wasn’t just starting fresh.”

Going forward the group will have a presence at many of the upcoming health events, including the health fair in October.

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

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