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Alcohol, obesity, health care: Public health asks community's help in resolving these issues

ELLSWORTH -- The study began over three years ago with a simple goal: Improving the health of Pierce County residents.

The group was headed by public health workers with input from personnel in hospitals, ambulance services and medical clinics.

Their findings, which were released last month, titled, "Pierce County Community Health Improvement Plan," identified three topics as the biggest county health care concerns: Access to care, obesity, and alcohol.

"Currently, there are minimal activities aimed at addressing these priorities, thus additional resources will be needed to implement effective health improvement initiatives in Pierce County," the study said.

Public Health Director Sue Galoff takes it one step further:

"This plan is intended to be a strategic plan for improving the health of the Pierce County community, not merely a health-department plan," she said.

"It is hoped that community groups, schools, business, healthcare providers, the media and elected officials will utilize the plan to focus efforts and leverage additional funding."

A more detailed breakdown of each topic follows:

Access to care

Numerous factors pushed this issue to high priority, including lack of available health, dental and mental health care; rising burden of the lack of health insurance; and the need to develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts.

To solve the problem, grants were written early last year to expand school-based dental care, and implementation of those grants is beginning. Discussion was also held about care activities involving both Pierce and St. Croix counties, with those ideas are still in the planning stages.

The study said 2020 objectives are for all residents to have affordable access to health services that are safe, effective, affordable and timely, along with appropriate access to effective and adequate oral-health delivery systems.


A lack of physical activity, low fruit and vegetable consumption, and too many overweight people highlight this pressing issue.

Steps taken to correct obesity include the establishment of The Healthy Eating Active Living Coalition of Pierce County (HEAL), a collaborative community organization with health department leadership.

The HEAL coalition focused on fruit and vegetable consumption by completing an audit of the county in 2009. Results showed the county had 2.5 farmers markets per 100,000 population, compared to a state value of 3.5.

By 2020, with increased access to fruits and vegetables, residents will eat more nutritious foods and drink nutritious beverages, along with having ready access to sufficient nutritious foods and beverages.

Some work remains to be done in achieving those goals. The 2010 county health rankings show 36% of county residents have access to a healthy food outlet, compared to 46% statewide.

In addition, there were no farmers markets that accept EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) and only three that accept WIC vouchers.

Binge Drinking

A 2008 county health snapshot showed Pierce County slightly above the state average in terms of people reporting binge drinking.

To combat the problem, the River Falls Partnership for Youth was expanded last year into the Pierce County Partnership for Youth.

The River Falls branch initially started out on the school level but expanded into broader community programs for prevention and protection. Those programs achieved success, thus the call for the county-wide expansion.

Objectives for 2020 include reducing unhealthy and risky alcohol and other drug use by changing attitudes, knowledge and policies; and assuring access to comprehensive prevention, intervention and treatment programs.

For more information, visit

If interested in joining one of the coalitions to address these issues, contact names and numbers are as follows: HEAL: Katie Bartko, 715-273-6755; Access to Health Care: Lisa Raethke, 715-273-6755; and Partnership for Youth: Kayla Buck, 715-273-6766.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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