SHERIDAN — Although Wyoming ranks fourth in the nation for economic well-being, the state ranks 17th in the nation for child well-being and overall health. The two, Wyoming Community Foundation Chief Operating Officer Samin Dadelahi believes the health of children should rank more closely to economic well-being.
Every year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes research and policy reports, including the Kids Count Data book that ranks states based on the latest available data concerning child well-being. The research relies on 16 key indicators in four categories: economic well-being, education, family and community and health.
While Wyoming ranks fairly well in most of these categories, it falls behind in health, ranking 45th in the nation. A discrepancy arises from Wyoming’s health ranking and the state’s economic well-being, currently ranked 4th in the nation.
“Why isn’t the health in the state matching up with this ranking?” Dadelahi asked.
With implications of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to arise through 2021 expecting to have an impact on health care in Wyoming, Dadelahi believes more must be done.
“Unless policy makers act boldly, recovery from the coronavirus crisis could be prolonged and magnify problems, especially those surrounding health, which is a chronic issue in Wyoming,” Dadelahi said.
When looking at some of the chronic issues in children in the state, health indicators that consistently show up include low birth weight babies and a higher percentage of overweight or obese children.
Dadelahi believes a right step toward solutions includes expanding Medicaid. As one of the few states in the U.S. that has not added onto Medicaid, there needs to be a stronger push to reevaluate the disparity between Wyoming’s economic well-being and health care, she said.
While telemedicine has helped health care access in rural areas, Wyoming lacks the infrastructure to serve the population, which include low wages for women in health care fields and accessibility issues for rural Wyoming, Dadehali said. Mental health is also a component of the issue, with 28% of Wyoming families with children feeling down, reaching higher than the nation’s average of 22%. This infrastructure issue contributes to roughly a $1 billion shortfall for reaching the needs of health care patients in the state.
Addressing infrastructure issues within the state can help strengthen and aid Medicaid expansion in the future, Dadehali states.
Despite a grim outlook in services and access to health care for Wyomingites, groups in Sheridan County strive for family wellness with activities and programs targeted at overall health.
Adverse Childhood Experiences is a prevention strategy plan that seeks to identify and prevent negative childhood experiences. The object of ACEs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is to create strong conditions for families to thrive in and where youth is free from harm. The ability to reduce ACEs is instrumental in the ability to reduce health care consequences, Dadelahi said.
The Sheridan County YMCA aims to reduce ACEs in the community and strengthen community and familial bonds in early childhood. Health is viewed as a holistic practice, YMCA Executive Director Elisabeth Cassiday said. Within the programs offered at the YMCA, health is a central goal in instilling healthy choices that challenge the rising tide of childhood obesity and mental isolation that many children experience.
Addressing the issue of childhood health starts at a community level, Cassiday said.
“We try to build that confidence that everyone has a place at the Y,” she said. “You don’t have to be an athlete to feel belonging at the Y. To feel that sense of belonging is huge for mental health.”
Helping families maintain access to the facility and its programs, the YMCA offers scholarship opportunities for children, adults and families. Cassiday said the YMCA will never turn a child away, and all families struggling financially can participate in the opportunities the YMCA offers. The burden of paperwork often becomes a barrier to some families in the application process, and families demonstrating initiative in their children’s lives can receive help for the paperwork, Cassiday said.