Exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, and visit your doctor. Being healthy sounds easy right? For many, it’s not. In some places, healthy foods and fitness gyms simply aren’t available or affordable. Some struggle to find stable shelter. For others – especially in rural Montana – visiting a healthcare provider means driving more than an hour from their home. There are a lot of factors that contribute to people’s ability to make healthy choices, and they aren’t always within control.
These factors are often called the “Social Determinants of Health.” Put plainly, these are the various factors in a person’s life that affect their ability to be healthy. And they go far beyond access to healthcare. In fact, medical care accounts for only 10-20 percent of the contributors to health. So, what else is affecting Montanans ability to be healthy? And what is Community Health Partners (CHP) doing to impact these other areas? Let’s take a look.
What you can afford plays a huge role in your health. It affects whether you can buy healthy food, sign up for a gym membership, live in an area that’s conducive to health, and whether or not you have time to exercise. For example, if you have to work two jobs just to support your family, healthy habits are probably the last thing on your mind. And, of course, healthcare can be incredibly expensive.
Since its founding, CHP has worked to bridge the economic barriers to healthcare by providing care regardless of patients’ ability to pay. With a sliding fee scale based on family size and income, patients can see medical, dental and behavioral providers at a fraction of the normal cost.
A study in the American Journal of Public Health followed a group of more than 5,000 people for a 30-year period. Among this group, approximately 13% of participants with a high school degree or less education died compared with only 5% of college graduates. This means that if you go to college, you’re much more likely to live past the age of 60. In addition, people who are more educated have less anxiety and depression, have fewer functional limitations, and are less likely to have a serious health condition like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or asthma.
Better education has long been associated with better health for a variety of reasons. Generally speaking, more education results in better quality jobs, higher wages and better access to healthy foods, exercise and health insurance. That’s why CHP provides free access to its Adult Education Program in Livingston and West Yellowstone to create better health outcomes for adults.
More than 700,000 people live in rural Montana. With a shortage of physicians and mental health professionals, many Montanas are forced to drive hundreds of miles to access providers. Furthermore, some Montanans don’t have ready access to a vehicle. Naturally, this can make it difficult for Montanans to find the care they need.
In Bozeman, Belgrade, Livingston and West Yellowstone, CHP has selected central locations that are easier to access on foot or by public transportation. Bozeman and Belgrade offer free bus transportation through HRDC’s Streamline Bus service, and Park County provides free transportation via Windrider Transit. In addition, the West Yellowstone Foundation offers twice-weekly bus service to Bozeman for access to medical appointments. CHP also offers virtual appointments for medical and behavioral care, allowing you to get the care you need from your home.
Where you live also can affect your health. Living in Montana, we’re all more exposed to freezing winter temperatures, and those who live in poorly insulated housing are more vulnerable to health issues in the winter. More recently, Montana has seen hazardous air quality throughout the summers due to wildfires near and far. Likewise, the infrastructure of the places you live and work can have serious health impacts. Montana’s homeless population (around 1,600 residents) will die an average of 12 years sooner than the rest of the U.S. population.
To combat these setbacks, CHP connects patients to resources like HRDC, a nonprofit that helps low-income and homeless populations find housing or temporary shelter, pay their energy bills and a whole lot more.
When it comes to health, the habits of your family and social circle may influence you more than you think. Do your parents avoid the doctor, eat poorly and neglect to wear their seatbelts? Do most of your friends smoke tobacco or abuse other substances? If so, you’re more likely to adopt these behaviors as well. Proper education and access to the right resources can help break these cycles, but it can take work – especially later in life when habits are already solidified. This is where a behavioral health specialist at CHP can help, with expertise on how to change your daily habits to positively impact your health.
Are you working against one of these factors when it comes to your health? Connect with your local CHP clinic in Belgrade, Bozeman, Livingston or West Yellowstone to get access to a variety of resources that can help improve your health.