by Emily Rose Proctor, SoWal Community Chaplain
On September 18th, more than 35 community representatives of health-related service providers in Walton County heard the preliminary findings of the Walton Community Health Improvement Partnership’s (WCHIP) Community Health Needs Assessment which conducted surveys and interviews with key partners in the spring of 2019 and voted on new priorities for the next three-year cycle. The updated needs assessment will be presented at the Healthy Walton Summit on November 13th at Santa Rosa Beach Community Church from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Between 50 and 75 representatives of service providers and community stakeholders from Walton County will come together to develop a plan to address the top identified priorities. This event is free and open to the public. At the September WCHIP meeting, the group overwhelmingly agreed that housing, mental health, substance abuse, access to healthy foods, and preventable injuries and diseases were the most important issues the community was facing.
Some of the findings in the needs assessment that stood out:
30.9% of children in Walton County live in poverty, compared to 20.3% in the state of Florida. Another was that in 2018/19, the school system identified 468 homeless students (including those students doubled up in housing with extended family or friends). In addition, the number of homeless individuals recorded in the annual Walton County Point-in-Time Homeless count jumped from 99 in 2017 to 173 in 2018. Inadequate mental health care and a lack of affordable housing were cited as the two biggest causes of homelessness among those surveyed. As the population continues to grow in Walton County (by some measures, it’s currently the 5th fastest growing county in the U.S.), it will become increasingly important that the community comes together to address these issues, to continue to be a safe and appealing place for both residents and visitors alike.
A benefit to being part of the Walton Community Health Improvement Partnership is the chance to hear from partner organizations about upcoming events and priorities. For Caring and Sharing of South Walton, registrations for the Angel Tree program are beginning and a save-the-date notice was given for the January 25th “Cost of Poverty Experience.” Also, the November 18th “Day of Impact” of 90Works in Fort Walton Beach is upcoming, where services like legal aid and other services will be open to the general public. Hope Medical Clinic is exploring adding telehealth mental health services for its clients in Destin and Freeport, and PanCare is working to get telehealth urgent care made available to all of Walton County schools. The UF/IFAS extension office in Walton County is collecting peanut butter (with donations being matched) for local food pantries as part of the Peanut Butter Challenge, from October 1st -November 27th. There is still funding available through the Early Learning Coalition for families struggling to afford childcare, and Walton County has become the first county in the Panhandle to become part of the Age Friendly Communities Network, thanks to the hard work of WCHIP and the Walton Okaloosa Council on Aging.
It’s great to see so many people coming together for the good of the community, which meets every other month on Wednesday mornings at the Department of Health in DeFuniak Springs or South Walton. To RSVP for the Healthy Walton Summit (by October 31st) or for more information about WCHIP, contact Ryan Mims by phone at 850-401-6341 or email at WCHIP@flhealth.gov.
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