Dan Partridge, head of the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Department, shared a report on the health of Lawrence .
The forty-two people who work in the Public Health Department are proud of its designation as an “accredited health department.” Together, they strive to fulfill their mission: To improve health for all.
According to Partridge, quality of life for a person and for a community are impacted by the same factors. About 10% is influenced by health care; 10% by the physical environment; 40% by socio-economic factors; and 40% by health behaviors.
Douglas County is among the top ten counties in the country on many measures. The community compares particularly well regarding its low teen birth rates and its few preventable hospital stays, for example. Areas that need more work are in affordable housing, excessive drinking, social isolation, and income inequality. All such issues are complex and difficult to impact. On many measures, a distinction is apparent between the quality of life in East and North Lawrence as compared to West Lawrence.
Public health has 140 years of history in Kansas, Partridge says. At the onset in 1885, the focus was on improving the environment. By the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, the emphasis was on disseminating the innovations made possible by medical science. Vaccination services, family clinics, and the Healthy Family Program all emerged in that era and continue today. In the future, community health must re-invent itself once again to address new dangers, moving beyond the clinic and into the community itself. Currently, the Department is focusing on healthy foods and physical activity, poverty and jobs, behavioral health, and affordable housing all viewed through the lens of discrimination and racism that unfortunately underlies each of these issues.
Sue Funk, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Douglas County Conservation District, is the right person to give “The Buzz About Native Bees.”
Funk explains that there are many types of bees. Some bees are generalists and visit all types of plants; others, such as the blue sage bee, are specialists. Some are solitary; others live in colonies. Some are mellow; others anger easily. Only honey bees can be “managed.”
Did you know?
♦ There are over 3,000 species of bees in Kansas.
♦ Native bees do the most efficient job of pollinating native plants in Kansas.
♦ Honey bees are not native to the state.
Although there are other pollinators—monarch butterflies, birds, and bats, for example—bees do 75% of all the pollination to keep crops and gardens productive. Pollinators of all types are decreasing in numbers. Planting a pollinator garden is one way to help ensure that bees and other pollinators flourish.
The annual Community Bike Ride has become not only a celebrated event in Lawrence, but also an anticipated tradition in Steve Lane’s family.
“On March 21st my son, who is eight years old, came to me so excited,” said Lane. “‘Dad, it’s only four months to the Community Bike Ride!'” Now entering its eight year, the bike ride has been part of his entire life.
The idea for the Community Bike Ride was born in 2009. Lawrence Central Rotary club members met with Marilyn Hall, of Douglas County Community Foundation. The club was looking to discern:
- What do we want to do in this community?
- What do we stand for?
Hall shared that the Foundation had identified that while there was a strong local biking community, it was not accessible to families. Recreational opportunities were geared toward high-end riders.
With support from the Foundation, the Club built RideLawrence.com and had enough funds to manage two years of the ride.
While the activities at the ride and sponsorships and partnerships have increased, the purpose of the ride has remained the same, to promote biking as a fun and healthy activity for families.
Nancy Thellman, Douglas County Commissioner, tackled the issue currently facing Douglas County voters—whether or not to approve a ½-cent increase to the sales tax. The County Commission has asked for the sales tax increase in order to fund expansion of the county jail and to create a mental health crisis center with related services.
According to Thellman, it was ten years ago when Ken McGovern, Douglas County Sheriff, first came to the County Commission to warn about the jail’s capacity. Intended to house 167 inmates, Thellman says that the facility currently averages 50-80 people over that number each day. Deputies routinely transport the extra inmates to other jails, a solution that costs $1.3 million each year. When inmates are housed at other jails, Douglas County rehabilitation services are unavailable to them. Thellman says that recidivism is up nearly 50% since the overcrowding has worsened. Violent interactions in the jail are now more frequent.
Douglas County has one of the lowest incarcerations rates in the state and in the nation, declares Thellman. The behavioral health court is functioning well. There are seven programs to divert people from the jail currently in place. Around 150 people are now free from jail because of those programs.
A mental health crisis center for adults that would also be funded by the proposed sales tax increase. In addition to crisis services, the plan includes prevention programs and transitional housing for those living with mental health issues.
There is so much that Shannon Oury, Executive Director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, is proud of in this community. She also knows how much work is left to do.
LDCHA, which recently celebrated its 50 anniversary, serves 1,250 families monthly through owned and managed properties. 73 percent of people served are considered extremely low income, making $15,000 or less as a household. Programs are 99 percent full, with waiting lists.
Oury shared that she has always been “pulled to this work.” While she taught at the University of Kansas Law School and worked as a practicing lawyer, she served on the board and as the attorney for LDCHA. When the previous Executive Director announced she was stepping down, Oury realized how much it mattered to her that the organization’s work continues.
She’s especially proud of the Moving to Work (MTW) program, which provides a flexible structure for LDCHA to provide support and resources based on where the individual or family is at, whether that be rental assistance, job training, bikes and bike trailers, computer access, or counseling. The transitional program also has a wonderful success rate, with 83 percent of participants transitioning into stable housing after completing the 24-month program.