The Cochise Health and Social Services department is prioritizing access to health and health education to people living in rural communities in Cochise County.
Healthy Cochise, or the Cochise Healthy Communities Initiative, began two years ago. According to Jacob Martinez, the program’s coordinator, the initiative started as a way to combat the challenges rural counties face in getting access to quality care and health education.
“All of these things that come together with living in a rural area can make it difficult for people to live long healthy lives,” Martinez said. “Since this initiative began, we really focus on hearing from different people in the community to bring each area of Cochise County what they need.”
Cochise County is one of two counties in Arizona with a declining population, according to the U.S Census, with its estimated population standing at 124,756.
“I think rural communities tend to be forgotten,” Martinez said. “Most everyone talks about Tucson as just Southern Arizona. It feels like there are populations here that tend to be forgotten and I think that happens for a lot of reasons.”
The Healthy Cochise initiative also consists of a Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which is set to last five years from 2017 to 2022, and an overall yearly health assessment on the county.
The CHIP mission statement is to “motivate and guide the diverse and unique communities within Cochise County to actively participate in identifying and addressing health concerns in their neighborhoods, towns, and surrounding areas.”
The health assessment and five-year health plan outlines the county’s priorities for health, including mental health and substance abuse, good jobs and healthy economy and diabetes and obesity.
“We want to make health a priority to people that live here and want to live here, people who say this is the life they want to live,” Martinez said. “They should be able to get to a doctor’s visit and have the health access they need, we just want to emphasize that.”
The leading causes of death in Cochise County are mostly chronic diseases, such as kidney disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Only one leading cause of death is not related to chronic disease, according to the county health assessment, and that is death by injury. Causes of death that would fall under this category are motor vehicle accidents, unintentional injuries or drug overdoses, domestic violence and child abuse.
The 2017 Cochise County Community Health Assessment reported increases in drug related discharges to Arizona hospitals from 2006 to 2014. From 2009 to 2014, drug dependance and abuse discharges to hospitals increased by 61 percent.
Cochise County prioritized mental health and substance abuse in Bisbee by changing the way that officers respond to opioid-related cases.
The Cochise Addiction and Recovery Partnership (CARP) recently allowed addicts to turn themselves into Bisbee police without fear of arrest and transported to a treatment facility, as long as the addicts agreed to the CARP guidelines.
One of the most important things when it comes to community health, according to Cochise County Prevention Services Director Judith Gilligan, is health prevention and focusing on policy systems and environmental change.
“Changing the public’s environment and policy systems is a stepping stone the community can use toward making the healthy choice, the easiest choice and having a community-wide, easier transition into a healthy lifestyle,” Gilligan said.
Doing so is the best way to help the community reach a healthier lifestyle change, according to Gilligan. That is the what Cochise County is looking to focus on.
“There has been a huge increase in community engagement in the two years since we started the Healthy Cochise initiative,” Gilligan said.
Healthy Cochise has grown from a dozen partners in 2016 to more than 50 partners in 2018. Cochise now has seven cities working together: Sierra Vista, Benson, Bisbee, Douglas, Fort Huachuca, Tombstone and Willcox.