Metro Health’s Leaner Strategic Plan Aims to Address Nutrition, Trauma, Health Care Access

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Campers hold up peeled oranges in the air during a nutrition education mindful eating class at American Diabetes Association camp.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Nutrition is one of the areas of focus in Metro Health's 2020-22 Strategic Plan.

Following more than three months of community surveys to determine the biggest health issues affecting city residents, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department hopes to focus its 2020-22 Strategic Plan on childhood trauma, nutrition, and access to health care.

The public health department on Thursday announced during the City Council Health and Equity Committee meeting that the chosen areas of focus were narrowed down from a list of 22, which included diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, dental health, and aging issues.

More than 4,000 people responded to the request for community input, said Colleen Bridger, director of Metro Health. The department began its survey in October by reaching out to City and County-run community organizations and conducting public outreach events.

The 2017-19 Strategic Plan, a triennial report outlining the City’s high-priority health concerns and how to address them, included 21 public health concerns. When Bridger assumed her role as Metro Health director in March 2017, the plan was already mostly formulated.

The new plan will focus on “upstream indicators” of health, or the underlying issues related to health care, including poverty, access to food, and mental health concerns, Bridger said.

“There is a lot of work currently done by Metro Health to address the health-related issues that will not be included in the [new] Strategic Plan, so I want to make sure people know that they will continue to be addressed. Narrowing down the categories allows us to better quantify how an item will affect public health,” Bridger said. While the plan does not directly address domestic violence, it will be addressed through a coordinated approach to childhood trauma and continued work of community organizations.

Members of City Council present at the Health and Equity Committee meeting were largely supportive of the plan and its intention to focus on fewer public health concerns in an effort to create a bigger impact.

“I am so proud of San Antonio that they see adverse childhood experiences and domestic violence as public health issues,” said Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8). “Usually domestic violence is left out of public health, and I think we should celebrate” its inclusion.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said focusing on three priority areas instead of 22 gives a sense that the health department is “not trying to solve the entire universe.”

“There can now be a list of strategies for very specific actions and steps to accomplish the goal,” Saldaña said.

Mayoral hopeful and current Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) and Councilman Art Hall (D2) did not remain to hear the Metro Health Strategic Plan presentation, which was the last topic covered during the committee meeting Thursday.

On April 10, Metro Health will formally present the Strategic Plan to City Council for approval, and all Council members will have the opportunity to provide feedback. Prior to this presentation, the department will work with local experts and community leaders to determine how the City can best implement a plan and track its progress.

“We want to speak to experts to dig deeper and ensure we are making the most meaningful impact. We also want to reconnect with community members to make sure they have another opportunity to give input on what will help make their neighborhoods healthy,” Bridger said.

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