BILLINGS — The Yellowstone County Health Needs Assessment showed an overall improvement in access to healthcare but an increase in people who have considered suicide since 2019, among hundreds of other health statistics, according to the assessment released Monday.
The assessment is a report card on the overall health of Yellowstone County.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of persistent issues, a lot of stubborn issues. We’re still really working at mental health issues, substance abuse, and nutrition, physical activity and healthy weight. We’re improving in some areas but are still proving to need a lot of work," said Melissa Henderson, Healthy By Design community health improvement manager.
This is the fifth time the health assessment has been done in Yellowstone County. It was conducted in 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2017. It is conducted by Healthy By Design, a local partnership between the Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, and RiverStone Health Clinic.
Healthy By Design worked with Omaha, Nebraska-based consumer research company PRC to develop and conduct the assessment.
PRC reached out to 400 community members of all ages and 154 community stakeholders, such as Big Sky Economic Development, city of Billings and 406 Pride to get their input.
“We also do a key informant survey of local leaders and people that are involved in our community to let us know what they think is most important," Henderson said.
Henderson mentioned some health areas where Yellowstone County was seeing improvement.
“We’re seeing some definite improvements in access to healthcare, which is really exciting. We are seeing improvements in physical activity. And we’re seeing the leveling off of certain things, like screen time often increased pretty dramatically," Henderson said.
A statistic that stood out to the researchers was the amount of people who have considered suicide.
"I think what really struck us this cycle is some of the mental health indicators. One in five Yellowstone County residents express that they have thought about suicide. So, that's kind of a gut punch," Henderson said.
The health assessment should prompt the community to think about that statistic and what it can do to lower it, Henderson said.
The most important graph to come out of the assessment in Henderson's mind, showed the difference in health care access among people with high/medium and low incomes. (See below.)
"We know, in public health, that your income plays a role in a lot of your health outcomes. So if you are in a poorer home, you may be more likely to have less access to healthy foods, or be able to see the doctor as much as you can. What this graph is telling us is that all these different topics of health, like food security, suicide ideation, or life is negatively affected by substance abuse, you can see the income disparity," Henderson said.
As the graph shows, even people with high income are not immune to certain health issues. Henderson pointed out that 48 percent of people with high income are affected by substance abuse.
Through the data gathered in the health assessment, doctors and community leaders will begin to craft long-term solutions to improve Yellowstone County's overall health.
“The data is only as good as what you do with it. What we’re doing now, is looking at the data to see where we, as a community, need to respond," Henderson said.
This summer, Healthy By Design will complete a three-year strategic plan based on the data compiled in the health assessment. The strategic plan will be compiled with the help of local doctors, city planners, and community members to identify areas to improve public health.
Data collection for the next Community Health Needs Assessment will start in 2022 and the report will be compiled by 2023.
To read the full assessment, click here.