The Ottawa County Department of Public Health sponsors Step It Up, a program that includes guided walks through county parks.

Since implementing the 2018 Community Health Improvement Plan (C.H.I.P.), groups have been working to improve Ottawa County residents’ health by creating better access to care, mental health and healthy behaviors.

Those three areas emerged as the top health concerns based on data in the 2017 Ottawa County Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), according to Kristina Wieghmink, public information officer for the county’s health department.

The assessment is conducted every three years to gain a better understanding of residents’ needs, where the struggle is with health outcomes and issues, and what can be done to develop programming or allocate funding to alleviate those challenges, Wieghmink said. The 2017 CHNA surveyed 1,318 adults, 489 under-served adults and 91 health care professionals. It also includes 10 in-depth interviews with policymakers.

After collecting the data, health care officials and groups developed the improvement plan to look at causes for health challenges and outline how to address them.

Access to care

In 2017, the Ottawa Pathways to Better Health Program was launched as a way to increase access to care. Since that time, 1,553 individuals have been referred and 1,011 have been evaluated for services.

Nine community health workers serve 312 clients. Workers meet with clients, help them set goals and guide them through health care. They also help them manage their prescriptions and health conditions, and connect them with resources and services.

Community health workers meet clients at their homes or wherever it’s most convenient for the client. The workers work closely with the medical community to help address clients’ needs, said Sue Keen, the program supervisor.

“It’s more than a doctor visit,” she said.

To be eligible for the program, a client must be age 18 or older or pregnant, live in Ottawa County, be enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare, and have two or more chronic health conditions.

Through the program, there have also been 392 social service pathways completed – such as food, housing, transportation, employment and financial assistance. There have also been 202 medial pathways completed – such as referrals for medical, dental, vision and medication assistance. An additional 98 other pathways such as health insurance, education and more have also been completed.

Community health workers specifically work with the maternal and infant health program, and two workers work with Community Mental Health clients. Additionally, they use donated funds to assist clients with rental application fees.

Keen said they’re also working with a local manufacturer to develop an employment program for clients.

While it was launched as a three-year pilot program, Keen said they plan to continue with committed financial partners.

Mental health

The 2017 CHNA asked questions about adverse childhood experiences (A.C.E.), which are traumatic or stressful events such as emotional abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, divorced parents, sexual abuse and others. The report found that 53 percent of Ottawa County adults have at least one A.C.E., and 14 percent have four or more.

Through the Thrive Ottawa County initiative, the group plans to address A.C.E. through a two-prong approach.

The first part is aimed at bringing community awareness and training to people about an A.C.E., resiliency and trauma. In working with the Michigan A.C.E. Initiative, 65 individuals were trained during two events. The daylong training included information about how trauma plays a role in resiliency.

The first training included first responders and experts in education, faith-based community and health services. The second training included social service agencies.

Once trained, they will be able to go into the community and present information about A.C.E., said Lynne Doyle, executive director of Community Mental Health in Ottawa County.

The second part is a community awareness campaign. A website is being developed to include information about A.C.E., Ottawa County data, resources and a link to receive A.C.E. training. The website is slated to be launched in December or January.

Doyle said it’s their hope the website will provide enough information for people and provide guidance to have their questions asked.

Healthy behaviors

In an effort to decrease barriers to healthy living, Ottawa Food has partnered with farmers and other groups to improve access to fresh produce.

According to the CHNA, 22.1 percent reported the availability to fast food and junk food makes it hard to be healthy. Additionally, the lack of and affordability of healthy food options were sited as challenges by 11.8 percent of survey participants.

Ottawa Food, which is nearing the end of the first year of its three-year strategic plan, partnered with local farmers for the Pick for Pantries program, which distributed more than 450 pounds of U-pick blueberries, strawberries and apples donated to food pantries.

Farmers markets in Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Holland also participated in the Produce Donation Program. Residents donated more than 3,110 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit to food pantries through the program.

Additionally, Grand Haven Farmers Market vendors donated more than 2,000 pounds of produce for distribution.

Ottawa Food also partnered with Feeding America West Michigan, Hope College and local farmers to donate 165 pounds of strawberries and more than 500 pounds of cherries to food pantries, instead of the fruits remaining unused in fields.

Three-hundred senior citizens in the county also received $20 vouchers from Ottawa Food to purchase fresh produce at farmers markets.

There were 61,645 meals served to ages 18 and younger at 36 Meet Up and Eat Up sites in Ottawa County in the past summer.

Lisa Uganski, Food Ottawa coordinator and a health educator for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, said they hope to expand some of the programs next year, and to get more farmers involved.

“It’s helping address food insecurity across the spectrum,” she said.

Uganski noted that C.H.I.P. is one part of the work to improve residents’ health. It involves collecting data, forming a plan and carrying out the work.

Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Uganski by email at

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