FORT MADISON – The stigma of needing help and the bias that exists in the workplace are two of the top concerns for health officials to come out out of a two-hour luncheon Wednesday at the Elks Club in Fort Madison.
The University of Iowa’s College of Public Health hosted the Community Forum sponsored by Lee County Health Department, Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce, The Best You Coalition, Great River Health, and Van Buren SAFE Coalition Wednesday morning.
The forum focused discussions around how best to roll out, support, and advocate for mental health services and well-being for employees. About 25 local business members representing health care and the health services field participated.
However, with 1 in 4 jobs in Lee County in the manufacturing sector, only Cryotech Deicing was present at the forum.
In a breakout session following the group conversation, one of the questions that came up was how the group would get an audience with the employers that weren’t in the room.
Edith Parker, the Dean of public health college, said the focus of the university’s efforts was to provide a mechanism for community and business leaders to come together and share best practices around mental health and well-being at the community level.
She said the most impressive thing she’s seen in the multiple forums the University has hosted has been the ideas shared by those participating in the forums. The University is doing research on how best to reach communities with mental health and workforce wellness now being one of the top concerns for state employers.
She said there are also grants for communities that support innovative health improvement projects in communities across the state. The grants are funded by Iowa Farm Bureau.
“The projects led by local businesses and organizations are tackling community challenges such as food insecurity for children and the elderly, obesity, substance abuse prevention, and healthy activities for youth,” Parker said.
She said Lee County Health Department has been one of the most successful grant recipients. LCHD has been awarded several grants for senior health screenings and senior nutrition.
Breanna Kramer-Riesberg, the community outreach and development project coordinator at LCHD, and a graduate of the University’s College of Public Health, said a lot of her time has been spent on child care issues including abuse, neglect and day care slots for workers.
“The underlying issue is poverty,” she said.
She said she’s been working with community advocacy groups in Washington D.C. to take an inventory of the issues facing families.
“We have an issue right now. There are jobs out there and people aren’t taking them,” Kramer-Riesberg said. “What can we do as a health department partnering with other people in our community to get more people into those positions and lift our children, specifically, out of poverty.”
She said there are a lot of resources in the area including IowaWorks and StaffingSolutions, but people aren’t accessing those services and officials want to dig into the why.
Kramer-Riesberg said expanding child care workforce is essential, and that includes getting to a substantive wage so providers can staff facilities. They are also looking at access to resources locally and getting people connected through the Mobile Connection Center at LCHD, which can help match people to resources in the community.
LCHD is also working at retooling workplace policies to help create more family-friendly policies to attract more workers, while addressing the needs of employees with regard to their health and the health of their families.
Debra Payne, Manager of Employee Health at Great River Health Systems, said mental health is the top issue that employees come to her about. Payne has been in her position for five years and said the challenges have taken a toll on the health facilities employee point system.
“That’s our number one anxiety. You hear it all the time in the news about post-covid and the health care system not having enough staff and getting the right people in those jobs.”
She said a lot of employees have PTSD issues and dealing with patients who are lashing out or angry or emotional trigger the staff's PTSD symptoms which is problematic for retention and the health of the staff.
Payne said the aging workforce, as well as the aging parents of the workforce, is also adding pressure to staff and has created challenges for health care staffing.
GRHS does have employee assistance programs, but she said they are very underutilized and the challenge is getting people to see the value of the programs.
The group also heard from Kris Rankin, the Coalition Director of Lee County Best You Coalition and Van Buren Safe Coalition. Rankin is a certified prevention specialist and began working with Lee County in 2018. The Best You Coalition is funded by a drug-free communities grant. She said a coalition is now being formed in Fort Madison as well.
She said ADDs or Alcohol and Drug Dependency Services of Southeast Iowa has programming for drug-free workplaces. The Best You Coalition focuses on substance abuse in the county or community.
Rankin said qualitative and quantitative data gathering including drug testing is a vital component of the drug-free workplace.
The conversation also focused on healthy eating and providing resources and information to employees on how to eat healthier foods.
Parker pointed out that Iowa State Extension has many tools online that as part of their Spend Smart, Eat Smart program that directs people to healthier options out there that don’t put extreme pressure on family budgets.
She said that a new grant window is open from the college for a Business Leadership Network Community Grant Program for non-profits, and local governments to foster collaboration around the issues in small communities.
The grants are for up to $3,000 and require a minimum of 1:1 matching funds and the funds cannot come from the applying organization. Funds are for local programming and activities that address a locally identified community health or public need. Proposals must be submitted to email@example.com by Jan. 12 at 5 p.m.
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