Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Hospital Entertains a Shift in Promoting Wood River Valley Health
St. Luke’s Wood River has paired with other organizations, such as Blaine County Recreation District, to teach youngsters in BCRD afterschool programs about good nutrition.
Thursday, January 16, 2020


The obesity rate in Blaine County is less than the national average, but it’s trending higher. And adults in the county report triple the rate of marijuana use than the natural average.

Those are some of the findings of St. Luke’s Health Needs Assessment, which is required to be performed every few years by federal law.

Erin Pfaeffle, who manages St. Luke’s Center for Community Health and co-chairs the fledgling 5B Suicide Prevention Alliance, talked about the challenges facing the Wood River Valley in addressing the physical and mental wellbeing of its residents Monday at a presentation organized by the Wood River Women’s Foundation.

Erin Pfaeffle said a shared language can be helpful: “If you hear the word ‘resilience’ from The Hunger Coalition, then you hear it in the library, then the hospital, it starts clicking.”

The presentation was titled “The State of Our Valley 2020.”

Pfaeffle was joined at the presentation, which was held at Ketchum’s Community Library, by Dani Southard, Kristin Poole and Heather Crocker, who addressed challenges regarding the environment, arts and education.

The event was intended to offer the WRWF’s 350 members a chance to see the big picture concerning needs in the valley as they prepare to award a quarter million dollars in grants to nonprofits in Blaine County.

“When I first joined, I thought they should award grants to different organizations every year and that organizations shouldn’t be allowed to reapply for three years,” said Louisa Moats, who chairs the WRWF’s Education Committee. “Then I realized it’s the organizations, like The Advocates, that we were giving to repeatedly that provide the safety net in the valley.”

This youngster learned how much sugar—21 teaspoons--is contained in a SoBe drink when St. Luke’s clinical dietitian visited his afterschool program.

The needs assessment indicated that the top needs in the valley include preventing and managing obesity, mental health, reducing substance abuse, improving access to affordable dental care and improving access to affordable health insurance.

  • About 50 percent of those in Blaine County are obese or overweight, and that percentage is not improving, Pfaeffle said. Pfaeffle said St. Luke’s originally tried to tackle childhood obesity with a YEAH! class directed at children. But teachers soon learned that it was a challenge that involved the entire family so they expanded the class to teach the whole family nutrition and exercise habits.

    “Research has proven that ACEs are strongly associated with childhood obesity so we're realizing the need to bring mental health into this because children who are obese might have trauma occurring in their lives," Pfaeffle added.

  • About 29.8 percent of Idahoans have been diagnosed with mental health challenges compared with 18 percent of Americans nationally. Depression leads to higher rates of stress and even health problems, such as diabetes, said Pfaeffle, who helped develop St. Luke’s mental health clinic several years ago.
  • Not only do Blaine County adults report triple the rates of marijuana use as the natural average, but adults report 20 percent more binge drinking. Teenagers are not included in these statistics.

    “You can imagine this is underreported,” Pfaeffle said.

  • There is only one pediatric dentist in the valley who sees Medicaid patients and no adult provider. Consequently, those on Medicaid often don’t get care—and untreated gum and tooth disease can affect their physical health. Or, they must seek care in places like Fairfield and Twin Falls, Pfaeffle said.
  • St. Luke’s can’t address the conundrum with health insurance except teach people how to look for more affordable packages, she added.

Pfaeffle said St. Luke’s Wood River needs to shift some of its resources to address personal health behavior and social and economic factors like education and income that affect personal health. That includes air and water quality, housing and transportation, which are all social determinants of health.

To do that, St. Luke’s needs to partner with other valley organizations.

“Science tells us there’s good reason to partner with the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, for instance, to use art therapy to address something like post-partum depression,” Pfaeffle said. “If protective factors are not built around people, they die earlier and have more chronic diseases. And their personal behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use and having unprotected sex, get riskier.”

Pfaeffle said more attention is being given to ACES—Adverse Childhood Experiences--and rightfully so.

ACES, such as experiencing violence or abuse or having parents with substance abuse or mental problems, increase the likelihood a child will suffer chronic health problems, mental illness and substance misuse. Preventing ACES or mitigating the effects of them could reduce the incidences of heart disease, depression, cancer, diabetes and suicide.

Going forward, Pfaeffle said, the hospital needs to become engaged with such community issues as providing more affordable housing. The stress of unstable housing, for instance, is tremendous and can affect health.

“So, we’re really psyched to look to our partners and do things that we have traditionally not been involved in to promote better health in the valley,” she said.

The hospital also hopes to find other ways to promote resilience—the ability to maintain or regain positive mental health upon experiencing prolonged extreme stress, fatigue or a toxic environment. The building blocks for doing that include helping people address basic life needs, find purpose and hope and establishing trusted relationships and connectedness.

It also includes putting resources in place, noted the Community Library’s executive director Jenny Emery Davidson. She recounted how she had encountered a library patron who had lost his driver’s license due to a health problem. Not only did he lose his independence in that moment but he lost his identity and his ability to care for himself and his wife as he wanted to.

“He needed the library for a computer to study so he could regain his license,” Davidson said.

Pfaeffle said the state government has not historiclaly provided for its citizens from a mental health, social or educational perspective as much as other states do.

“In the end, the hospital and other organizations end up supporting the needs of its community members, doing the work that would get done by the government in other states,” she said.


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