Meet the Population health Trust, Part Three

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Skagit County Population Health Trust (or “Trust”) is gearing up to publish its new Community Health Assessment; a document which provides a framework for what the County and its partners will focus on over the next several years. Trust members have been busily collecting data and community input over the spring and summer in order to identify the top health concerns of our residents.

This Assessment, called the CHA, would not be possible without a diverse group of experts coming together with a shared mission and vision. One of its members, Anneliese Vance-Sherman, has shared her thoughts about the importance of the Trust below.

What health topic are you most committed to improving for Skagitonians?

Anneliese Vance-Sherman, Ph.D.

My top priority on the Population Health Trust is improving economic health for Skagit County residents. While economic health is not necessarily what comes to mind first for most people, it is a social determinant of health. Economic stability makes it possible for individuals and families to access stable housing, healthy food, routine health checkups and be able to withstand unexpected stresses.

Economic health takes many forms, and shows up in an interconnected web of priorities. I am specifically committed to working with workforce and education partners to help build a financially stable, skilled, and resilient local workforce. I also work closely with economic development and business to attract, build and retain businesses that support jobs in the community. I am also committed to improving access to affordable housing, supporting mental and behavioral health, and ensuring that all families are able to access the resources they need to raise healthy children and pave a pathway for future success.

Which agency or organization do you represent on the Trust?

I represent the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). ESD’s mission statement reads “We provide communities with inclusive workforce solutions that promote economic resilience and prosperity.” Economic health and financial security are fundamentally connected to community health. Indeed, steady employment and reliable wages make it possible for individuals and families to access resources that contribute to their well-being and that of the community.

What have you/your agency been up to during COVID?

The Employment Security Department has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 employment crisis since day one, in a number of different capacities.

  • The Unemployment Insurance division has assisted an unprecedented number of Washingtonians seeking unemployment benefits. ESD brought in staff from other parts of the agency and even the national guard to process a tsunami of claims as quickly and effectively as possible, while simultaneously working to identify and block fraudulent applications.
  • The constellation of organizations and service providers that make up the WorkSource system reimagined service delivery during the pandemic. Staff assisted job seekers through online meetings and appointments. Many ESD staff in WorkSource also assisted the Unemployment Insurance division during the peak of the pandemic.
  • ESD launched the Paid Family and Medical Leave program during the pandemic.
  • The division I work for (Labor Market and Economic Analysis) collects, analyzes and publishes labor market information. The quickly-evolving situation brought on by the pandemic required us to think about data differently. Our team focused a great deal of attention to unemployment insurance data both because there was heightened demand for it given the nature of the crisis and because with a weekly cadence for reporting, unemployment insurance data helped us to keep closer tabs on the changing economy. 

I have spent the pandemic innovating with my ESD colleagues over zoom meetings and communicating frequently with partner agencies in the economic and workforce development arenas and the media. My desk has been my kitchen table, and my in-person co-workers included two young scholars attending school remotely, my spouse who was also working from home, two dogs, and two cats.

I also volunteered at the Skagit County COVID-19 testing center; first at the Skagit Valley College campus, then at the fairgrounds. It was humbling to see how many people were proactively getting tested, and rewarding to work alongside so many dedicated community-minded neighbors.

Why do you think the Population Health Trust is important?

If you tug on a single thread in a woven piece of cloth, the cloth will pucker and pull. Tugging on the single thread may even tear and destroy the integrity of the cloth. If you are only aware of or focused on the single thread, it is difficult to anticipate how a single action could impact the whole.

The Population Health Trust relies on deep multi-sector engagement of community leaders and stakeholders with a mission to explore and promote community health in Skagit County. The diverse composition of the Trust makes this possible. Our multi-sector team includes representatives from hospitals and health care providers, community organizations, education, state and local government, law enforcement, and more. Together, we explore issues that impact community health, and proactively work toward creative and sustainable strategies that will improve the well-being of communities throughout Skagit County.

Rather than each pulling on our own thread, we can collectively take a step back, understand the strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and connections within and between our communities, and explore optimal solutions through active and creative dialog that centers and prioritizes a broad understanding of health for Skagit County.


Want more information about the Population Health Trust? Go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PHTAC.


Skagit Business and COVID-19: EDASC Perspectives

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (EDASC) began the year of 2020 focused on its mission of strengthening local businesses and expanding our economy. EDASC was set to leverage Skagit’s great geographic and business-friendly location to attract industry and entrepreneurs to our beautiful area. While economic planning is a fine art, no financial crystal ball anticipated a sudden and global blow to businesses. Of course, COVID-19 changed everything within a matter of weeks.

The Skagit economy is facing the chaos and alarm that seems to be everywhere. But who has a better finger on the local pulse than EDASC, even in the middle of COVID-19? So – in what is our new normal – EDASC CEO John Sternlicht and Communications Manager Aaron Weinberg joined me for a conversation through video-conferencing.

Resilience

Times are bad, without a doubt. But Skagit has always been resilient. Part of that is the nature of our people. Aaron also sees resilience in Skagit’s diverse economy. “When there is diverse business and industry, there is more resiliency and a greater ability to recover.” He added, “We have a range of prosperous industries including manufacturing, health care, maritime, informational technology, construction, retail, tourism and agriculture. This diversity will help us as we move forward.” In the meantime, businesses will need some help and solid advice.

EDASC and COVID-19 Resources

John and Aaron are frank about our current financial predicament. Workers and businesses have both been hit and hit hard. So, EDASC is doing what they can to give businesses access to the relief that is available. John described how opportunities like the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) have complex application processes that can be daunting. “We make the application process understandable, especially to smaller businesses with limited resources. We do the research and extra support. We don’t just send out links.” You can contact EDASC by checking out its website at https://www.skagit.org/.

Going the extra mile is obvious when viewing EDASC’s COVID-19 Resource Guide at https://www.skagit.org/covid-19-resources-for-businesses-employees. Some of these resources will be key to local businesses and their workers. For others, the assistance may not be enough. Sadly, some businesses will not make it through the pandemic. John noted other businesses “were in a position to able to pivot to manufacturing PPE. Also, local distilleries switched to making sanitizers.” There is always innovation during times of upheaval. Opportunities will appear for entrepreneurs despite the tough times ahead. Aaron describes that to support businesses, EDASC “is constantly getting crucial information out to businesses, with our website and newsletter being up to the minute.” In a time of disruption, having EDASC as a trusted information source to our business community is critical.

Re-opening

Skagitonians are waiting for the day that businesses re-open and jobs are restored. We long for a sense of normalcy by heading out to a few shops or sitting down to a good dinner at a restaurant. But to keep ourselves, neighbors and the most vulnerable members of our community safe, businesses need to plan now for the day that reopening arrives. Planning includes how to resume operations while maximizing the safety of customers and employees. This means assuring at least 6 feet of distance, face coverings for staff to wear for as long as it is recommended, providing places for handwashing or hand sanitizing for both employees and customers, and ensuring no one comes to work sick. John underscored the need for wearing face coverings. “When we wear a mask, it’s not so much for protecting ourselves but protecting others. It’s a main way to stop the spread of COVID.”

Businesses need to create an environment in which both workers and customers take necessary precautions.  Some businesses will struggle if their facilities make it difficult to create 6 feet of space between people. On the other hand, some organizations can get work done through telecommuting, and may continue this effective physical distancing practice. Fortunately, EDASC is offering guidance on re-opening. Small Business COVID-19 Prevention Best Practices for Businessesoffers information and further resources.

Another resource is Skagit County Public Health. In this time of COVID-19, Public Health is focused on helping businesses be successful in re-opening. The department provides guidance and support so workers and customers can be safe, and re-opening successful. Everyone has a stake in this response – owners, workers and customers. If all of us strive to take care of each other, transmission can be minimized and we can advance through the phases of the Governor’s Safe Start Washington. If we fall into reckless habits, COVID-19 can take hold again. This would be tragic to those who suffer infection and greatly undermine our economy. Check Public Health’s coronavirus webpage for business guidance as well as a vast range of information and resources regarding COVID-19: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm.

Recovery

EDASC will be a leader in the Skagit County Economic Recovery Strategic Plan, collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders. John notes, “Recovery is not yet in its early stages. It will require multistep planning with multiple phases. Recovery needs to be strategic – very well planned and thought out. This won’t be months – it will be years in the making in order to be successful.” The length of time should not be a negative. It shows we are in a marathon, not a sprint, but with the goal of recovery at the finish regardless.

Hope

The COVID-19 pandemic will come to a close after the historically mammoth scale of producing worldwide levels of immunization. This effort will be an economic driver in itself. But what will happen in Skagit then?

John has “hope that we will learn that political boundaries are meaningless to a virus or climate change. There is no separate city, county or country when it comes to COVID-19 or our impact on the planet. And addressing both are part of a job-creating economy.”

As Aaron described above, the ranging diversity of our economy provides Skagit with the resiliency necessary to recovery. This diversity gives us the foundation to bounce back in the future.

Things are dire for us – and it’s not right to be cheerily optimistic when so many are suffering. But Skagit is fortunate to have leaders who cautiously point out that, at the end of the tunnel, there is light.

Here are some more resources for businesses: