In comparison with other health planning committees throughout eastern Oregon, Umatilla County is way ahead of the game.

As mandated by the state, an Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization was formed last year to get all 12 counties in the region on board with developing a plan to improve upon health care issues in the area.

Through the organization, each county is required to have a committee devise a health improvement plan for their area, which includes conducting a community needs assessment to identify area health needs.

EOCCO Community Affairs Manager Sandy Ryman stopped into the coalition meeting Wednesday to highlight the strengths of Umatilla County in its health planning process and one of its longest-standing health coalitions: Good Shepherd’s Healthy Communities Coalition.

Not only has Umatilla County already conducted a healthy needs assessment for the area, but the local Healthy Communities Coalition has an action plan in place to combat the health problems in Hermiston and immediate surrounding areas. The coalition has had a plan in place since the inception of its group seven years ago, and the plan is updated on a regular basis to meet the needs of the area.

“You folks in Umatilla County are actually way ahead of other communities because you started your community needs assessment and planning process a year before the coordinated care organizations were formed,” Ryman said.

She said the early preparation will be invaluable when it comes time to offering advice and suggestions to other county committees on how to conduct a needs assessment and implement an action plan. In addition, each county will be receiving funds to help implement their plans.

Ryman said to further improve all county’s health improvement plan process, the EOCCO is prepared to provide $20,000 to $30,000 to each of the counties.

“The county can choose, priority wise, where to place that money to help with implementing a community heath improvement plan,” she said.

Ryman said she knows that the amount isn’t a lot of money, but the counties will be able to decide the best way to utilize funding in order to make a difference.”

Juli Gregory, director of education at Good Shepherd Medical center and head of the Healthy Communities Coalition, said since members got the results of the community needs assessment for the county, they have worked without their subcommittees to update the action plan to improve on the area’s health needs. The top three needs in the county include obesity, tobacco use and chronic disease rates. The other three include mental health, addiction and access to care.

Past events, such as the Family Health and Fitness day and continuing events, like walk and bike to school events, work site walks and health seminars, have all been a part of the group’s effort to improve upon the top six health priorities identified by the needs assessment.

“This group has a lot of history and a lot of wonderful things have happened through that,” Gregory said. “We are not a new group and have been well-established. We are working on coordinating with everything that has been going on after the community needs assessment.”

The EOCCO also received $1.6 million to use in eastern Oregon to help improve community health.

“It is not set up so that it reserves funding for one county,” Ryman said. “It is not going to be divided equally among each county. We are specifically going to look at innovative projects.”

Ryman said since Umatilla County is much further ahead of other counties, the funds will be useful to implement or expand upon programs and events outlined in its action plan.

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