For nine years running, Carver County has been named the healthiest county in Minnesota. In a year of pandemic response, uncertain future, and general challenges, this is a great honor that the county plans to uphold But there’s still more work to be done, and Public Health is ready to maintain its reputation.

“For us in Public Health, having a healthy county means having adequate access to those things that encourage a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally,” said Richard Scott, deputy division director for Public Health. “Some of it is obvious, such as access to quality health care, jobs, housing and food. Some factors aren’t as obvious, such as a strong economy.”

What makes a county healthy isn’t simply a robust medical system. When choosing counties, the Robert Wood John Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute looks at several features in a county, including its education, access to food, housing, and more. Everything is rated according to their standards, and the average of those determines the health of a county.

“We all play a part in building a health community for everyone to thrive,” said Scott. “The challenge comes in making sure that each and every resident has proper access to those things that encourage a healthy lifestyle.”

The biggest focus of 2020 was of course the COVID-19 pandemic response. This also had the effect of seeing first hand the problems Carver County has in their medical response, according to Scott, namely some of the inequities. As part of the response, Public Health worked with cities and townships to support residents, as well as organizations around the state to help distribute food and supplies to those in need. The county also partnered with Ridgeview Medical to support testing early on, and has continued to do so with vaccines.

In terms of mental health, the county offered free, virtual support through their First Street Center. That support included one-on-one and groups to help anyone experiencing mental health difficulties to continue to get the support they needed, and those new to it to make steps to manage and find a community ready to assist them.

As for next steps, there are still a few aspects left to the COVID-19 response. Testing and support have continued through the pandemic, with food distribution events still taking place to help anyone in need. With vaccines being readily available, that’s the next big project in store for Public Health.

“I believe next steps are first, helping everyone who wants a vaccine to receive one in the County, no matter what barriers they might have,” said Scott. “Second, we know that this pandemic has shown many of us that support public health the disparities that exist for some of our residents. We will need to continue addressing these, with the goal that every resident can access the things that promote health and wellbeing.”

The pandemic taught the county that there several disparities among residents, even a few odd ones that weren’t as imperative as before. Broadband access was one of those. Without access to the library, and therefore free computer usage, many residents without internet access struggled, whether working from home or trying to receive digital help. That doesn’t even mention those with families that needed to attend school from a distance or were going to school themselves.

Luckily, the county, schools, and cities partnered together to receive grants and other support from the state. Among those was providing hotspots to families in order to allow their children to continue to attend school. The county will continue to try and remove these kinds of barriers for people in need, according to Scott, whether by leveraging funds from the state or other sources to “make this happen.”

The main focus of 2021 for Public Health is health equity. The plan is to keep on partnering with residents and organizations to “build communities of belonging.” That means bringing safety, significance, meaning, and community to those in Carver County that are struggling to reach those goals.

“By attending to these foundational needs, we will by working together continue to ensure Carver County is one of the healthiest counties in Minnesota and in the country,” said Scott.

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