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.


Meet the Population Health Trust, Part two

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Now that Washington State has reopened and our vaccination numbers continue to climb, we will begin to see many changes here in Skagit County. For our businesses, schools, and community organizations, these changes are both exciting and (maybe) a bit overwhelming.

The Skagit Valley Family YMCA experienced the great highs and great lows of the pandemic. Its staff answered the call to action when COVID-19 drive-through testing was in dire need, and again when mass vaccinations began in Skagit County at the Fairgrounds. The YMCA itself closed, then opened partially; ebbing and flowing with the changing tides of the pandemic. Staff had to adapt, modify, and innovate on a dime in order to continue serving local individuals and families. Now that the economy is reopen, staff will once again need to evaluate what this change means for their organization.

To continue introducing Population Health Trust members, we thought that now would be a perfect time to highlight the CEO of the Skagit Valley YMCA, Dean Snider. Dean has been a member of the Trust since January of 2020, right before the pandemic hit. We asked him some questions about COVID, the Trust, and the joint mission of these two entities: Building a better and healthier community. Here is what Dean had to say.

Which agency or organization do you represent on the Trust?

I represent the Skagit Valley Family YMCA. Our Y has served the people of Skagit since 1911 with ‘Building Community’ as our Cause. We support vulnerable youth populations at Oasis and provide water safety education and swimming proficiency for countless youth. In addition, we support families with subsidized licensed and educational childcare throughout the county, and our Hoag Road and Bakerview facilities support healthy living across many programs.

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

I think the most important role of the Y is to protect and preserve health for the most vulnerable of our community’s populations. We engage Skagitonians from the earliest years of life to seniors. One of the greatest observed needs in our community, as we emerge from the pandemic, is for services supporting mental health. 

The Skagit Y is exploring how we might be able to step into this gap and offer these much-needed services. With the Oasis Teen Shelter as our launching pad, we hope to build a Y clinical mental health service that is additive to our current Skagit offerings and will begin by serving vulnerable youth. We are currently reaching out to key stakeholders in the community to seek guidance and more fully understand the need as we move forward with our preparations. We welcome all thoughts and feedback.

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

The pandemic hit our Y hard. The forced closureof our Hoag Road and Bakerview facilities resulted in about 75% loss in our membership; an understandable savings for families experiencing uncertain financial times. We are welcoming members back now as the restrictions have been lifted, and we are growing back our staff. We have, however, a long way to go toward recovery.

Dean Snider, CEO, Skagit Valley Family YMCA

During the pandemic and in partnership with Community Action, we used the Hoag facility to provide showers for homeless adults and, together with the Burlington Edison School District, provide school-age childcare for essential and emergency workers early in the pandemic.

Last fall, our school-age programs partnered with MVSD, B-ESD, and ASD to provide all-day classrooms and care and assistance in the virtual learning environment. We were able to add our sports program staff to provide much-needed physical activity for students early in 2021. I am proud of our childcare team, who endured this difficult year with courage and grace as they served families under these difficult circumstances. I am also proud that we were able to partner with Children of the Valley to support two additional classrooms housed at their site in Mount Vernon. Additionally, our Early Learning Centers remained open, focusing on essential workers altering class sizes, safety, and cleaning protocols to keep children and families safe.

At Oasis, we continued to serve vulnerable youth throughout the pandemic, which was only made possible through community and individual contributions to support our emergency shelter, outreach, and drop-in center. We continue to seek financial assisdtance as we protect these young people.

Why is the Population Health Trust important?

The impact of the collective is far greater than any single entity can accomplish on its own. The Trust is this collective in Skagit with entities and organizations committed togerther to build a better and healthier community. 

The Trust is essential, and we at the Y are honored to participate together with our Trust colleagues to impact our community. The mission of the Skagit Y is to create positive community change through relationships by empowering the mind, body, and spirit of ALL. Partnering with the Trust is in perfect alignment with this mission.

For more information about the Skagit Valley Family YMCA, visit their website or call (360) 336-9622.


Back to School: Create A Space

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Well, folks … “COVID Summer” is almost officially in the rear-view mirror, and autumn is quickly approaching. Our local school districts have announced their fall re-opening plans, and families all around Skagit County are preparing for remote learning, at least for the foreseeable future. While these changes to normal life can feel intimidating, frustrating, and even emotional, we can take comfort in knowing that there are things we can do to support our at-home learners.

In order to help your student stay engaged this school year, there are several things to consider before school begins. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting about different topics that promote healthy, engaged, and effective learning environments for students, parents, and the family as a whole.

Today’s topic is all about SPACE!

In a typical school environment, students are given space: a desk, cubby, locker, or even a special place on a carpet. These spots are so important because it gives children a sense of belonging and purpose within their learning space. Now that students are doing the bulk (if not all) of their schooling at home, this personal space is even more crucial.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Type of Space

The type of space your child will need depends on their age. Young, elementary-age students will most likely need less structured space than an older child. Younger children will have a lot of questions, and may feel more comfortable being in a family space. While they will still need a table top for a tablet or laptop, much of their work could be completed on the dining room table (or even the floor!).

Older elementary school students and middle schoolers will require a desk with space for their laptop, as well as room for writing. These students will be required to log into virtual classrooms for longer periods of time, and may benefit from having their computer camera face a wall. That way, the student doesn’t need to be concerned about what is happening around them at home, and they can control what appears on the screen behind them.

High schoolers will need the most structured space, so a full-sized desk would be ideal. At this age, it may make sense to ask your high schooler about what type of environment would work best for them, and make a plan with their preferences in mind. For self-starters, maybe a desk in their room would work best. For social butterflies, perhaps having a space that still allows for controlled socialization would be the most effective.

2. Rotating/Flexible Space

Just like in a classroom setting, expect that your student will want to move around a bit. Elementary students are used to having different learning stations in the class, and middle and high schoolers move from room to room throughout the school day. It is okay—and even healthy—to allow for some movement at home. Maybe reading can be done on the couch, but all writing assignments should be done at the table. Maybe artwork can be done on the floor, and “class” can be moved outdoors on a beautiful, crisp autumn afternoon. Plan for some flexible learning space, and have expectations worked out with your children ahead of time.

3. Privacy and Limiting Distractions

There are so many distractions in our homes—TVs, toys, backyards, and soft couches for naps—so it is crucial to create a space that minimizes distractions and creates some privacy. For many, it may not be feasible to create an office space for each child, but there are some ways to get creative with space. An empty closet turned into a learning cubby, a strategically placed tri-fold on the dining room table, or a cute side table at the end of the hall can create “study stations” that feel purposeful—not thrown together—and keep distractions at bay.

For parents who aren’t able to be at home during the school day, talk to your students about cellphone usage during the day and make a plan about when (if at all) things like TV are allowed. Look into parental control options for TVs, smartphones, or tablets, if necessary.

3. Promote Health

Despite our best intentions, there is a good chance that our kids will end up doing a portion of their work from the couch, their bed, or sprawled out on the floor with their feet above their heads. When they are seated, try to make sure that their computer monitor and keyboard are at proper heights, and that the lighting won’t strain their eyes. Encourage your child to get up, stretch, and drink plenty of water during the day. All of these activities have been proven to help with information retention among youth.

4. Personalization

Your child may be feeling a bit bummed out about this new school year, and rightly so. By allowing them to personalize their own space, you can help to bring some of the fun and excitement back to “Back to School” prep. Not only will they be excited to use their new special space, the act of creating this space will give them a sense of ownership. Encourage your child to make the space their own, and allow them to decorate with pictures, quotes—whatever!—that makes them smile and feel good.

It is expected that there will be some bumps along the way, so if your system in September doesn’t seem to be working come October … switch it up! This year is all about experimenting, so try to have some fun with it. See you in the next edition!