Writer / Jamie Hergott

Photography Provided

Being healthy is hard. Staying physically fit, mentally strong and spiritually uplifted can be challenging with all of life’s stresses and responsibilities. Many feel alone in this battle, but they don’t have to. Regardless of the health issue, whether it’s learning simple nutrition or battling addiction, the Hendricks County Health Partnership exists to help.

Chase Cotten, a Public Health Education Specialist at the Hendricks County Health Department and the Partnership’s coordinator, is passionate about informing the county that there are people and resources available to help everyone achieve optimal physical, mental and spiritual health.

“The heart of this group is to educate, advocate and to collaborate,” Cotten says. “That’s how we improve the health of families in our county by whatever means necessary. And everyone has equal access.”

In 2010, the Hendricks County Health Department invited members of the community to gather and discuss local health issues. A group of about 20 health care professionals met for the first time in what would become the Partnership. They conducted their first project, a community health assessment, to identify what the key issues were in the county. Since then, they have developed seven local coalitions to tackle all aspects of public health, growing from 20 members to currently more than 250.

Improving the health of the community may sound vague, and many may not think their own issues qualify for seeking out resources from the Partnership. But there’s a wide range of help available for all types of health-related issues. Whether it’s simply finding a nutrition and exercise plan, dealing with an addicted loved one, having suicidal thoughts or needing some tools for Seasonal Affective Disorder, there is a community resource for many issues on the broad spectrum of public mental, physical and spiritual health.

Some examples of resources available are education materials, public forums and events, education in schools and relationships with schools and hospitals to provide community support for health-related topics. One of the best resources available, according to Cotten, is a comprehensive guide on their website, which can be found at hendrickshealthpartnership.org/resources.html. This list is dynamic and active, always changing and growing. It’s an excellent place to start, regardless of what the need is.

The makeup of the group is not only dynamic, but it’s local: all are Hendricks County members.

“We are community members and neighbors,” Cotten says. “That’s the heart and the spirit of the Partnership. I know sometimes there’s a weariness in getting out of our silos and building bridges, but the moment you open yourself up to someone’s input, explosions happen.”

The range of members allows bridges to be built across disciplines. Doctors, nurses, mental health counselors, therapists, social workers, businesses leaders, teachers, first responders and various other community members take part not only to offer their own expertise but to contribute to the cause of public health as a whole.

Members serve on one of seven local coalitions: Accessing & Utilizing Healthcare, Mental Wellness, Substance Abuse, Tobacco Free Coalition and the Physical Activity and Nutrition Coalition. The newest coalitions starting in December are The Minority Health Coalition and the Interfaith Coalition.

While the Partnership meets as a whole four times per year for coalition updates and professional development, the local coalitions themselves meet once a month, or every other month, to work on their own projects specifically dealing with their particular health issue.

Jenny Bates, the Wellness Director for Hendricks Regional Health and Vice Chair of the Partnership’s Advisory Board, has been with the Partnership since its inception. She also chairs the Substance Abuse Task Force’s “Projects Committee” and sits on the Mental Wellness Coalition.

“Our main goal is to improve the lives of those around us,” Bates says. “I got involved because this was the first time there was a unified and coordinated effort to invite anyone interested in improving public health from all angles, whether it’s private, nonprofit, or public. I loved the idea of bringing everyone to the table.”

There are many different types of projects the Partnership works on throughout the year. For example, they help the Health Department spread the word about available training for lay responders and distributes Naloxone kits, as well as administers HIV/STD screenings and handles used sharps in attempts to deal with opioid overdoses.

Some projects don’t revolve around such heavy issues. The Physical Activity and Nutrition Coalition produced a map of food pantries, community gardens and farmer’s markets for the public, which is available on the Partnership’s resource guide. These are just a couple examples of the many ways the work groups work locally to tackle health issues and provide specific resources to the Hendricks County community dealing with those issues.

Bates emphasizes that it does not matter where you live in the county or what your health issues are. It could be a neighbor next door who struggles from post-partum depression. It could be a mom friend in someone’s aerobics class that has anxiety. It could be a teenager who had a sports injury, and there’s a concern about her recovery and a possible opioids addiction. Or maybe someone wants to finally quit smoking. There are resources for all of it.

“There’s a huge spectrum from big to little,” Bates adds. “There’s something for everyone. You don’t have to be in crisis. So much of it boils down to tiny steps toward better health every day. It’s really those small decisions every day that add up over a lifetime. If you look at all the different subgroups that are with this county health Partnership, they are all supporting those small good decisions.”

For more information, you can visit Hendricks County Health Partnership online at hendrickshealthpartnership.org.