Is our community healthy?

This year’s televised update of the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) is particularly telling on just how complicated providing services to a community can be, and how important data collection and community collaboration is.

Each year, since 2016, the report outlines The Midland County Health and Human Services Council’s continuing work by more than 35 organizations from all sectors of the community in the priority areas of mental wellbeing, substance-free resilience and healthy living.

The plan tries to measure the successes and challenges of local programs to better target physical and mental health gaps in Midland County. Sharon Mortensen, president & CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation and chair of the committee working on the plan, moderated the program.  ”Collaborative efforts, such as the Community Health Improvement Plan, are a driving force for addressing health issues in our community,“ says Mortensen. 

Community Health Improvement Plan presentation at Midland County Services Building on Jan. 23.
The panelists this year were Kathryn Tate, The Legacy Center for Community Success; Brent Mikkola and Dr. Kathy Dollard, MyMichigan Health; and Charlie Schwedler, Midland County Senior Services. Panelists outlined strategies for 2023, what worked and didn’t according to evidence based data, and offered ideas for 2024.

The CHIP was developed using data from various local and national sources, such as the Midland County Dashboard, county health rankings, behavioral risk factor surveys, data from MyMichigan Health, and others.

Readers interested in watching the 38-minute presentation, with lots more data, can go to this video on YouTube produced by Midland Community Television (MCTV) 
Kathryn Tate (L) & Brent Mikkola (R) at CHIP presentation.
Tate addressed the issue of substance abuse, and notes that while statistics show some success in the area of opioid abuse - its three-year statistics show the number of opioid deaths falling from 14 in 2021, to 10 in 2022 and to a projected six in 2023 while law enforcement use of Narcan, a medication used to reverse or reduce the effects of opioids,  dropped from 115 to 68 in 2023 - and should be celebrated - other statistics are concerning, “We have seen more students in schools who are vaping and using cannabis,” she notes, and methamphetamine use has doubled in the past four years. 

Yet, even these statistics obscure a greater problem. “While it is easy to get caught up with these substances that continuously change, one of the most pressing issues we need to be focusing on is alcohol. Alcohol was one of the main reasons for 77 percent of interventions for substance use in the emergency room last year So alcohol continues to be the No.1 killer in substance abuse", she says.

Dollard pointed out some troubling factors also in mental health, particularly anxiety and depression. “We had a survey we did in 2022 in all of Midland County that showed we had an uptick in depression and anxiety which we thought was in part attributed to the pandemic,” she says, while noting a youth survey from the same time frame showed virtually the same results. She also studied patient data from 2023 from MyMichigan, which held steady.

Mikkola said statistics in the area of healthy living during the past six years showed residents are becoming less active; in its latest survey fewer than 40 percent of respondents were able to meet guidelines on a weekly basis. “We also looked at obesity rate, overweight, diabetes, and we found that diabetes prevalence and diabetes mortality have increased as well,” he says, noting that these will be areas of focus in the new year.
Dr. Kathy Dollard (L), Charlie Schwedler (C), and Sharon Mortensen (R) at CHIP presentation.
Dollard also said increasing awareness of mental health resources will be one of the major pushes this year, focusing on better recognition of depression and anxiety causes and “cultivating positive relationships.”

Schwedler broached the topic “Max loves Midland,” self-described “as your entertainment, resources, and collective improvement hub for Midland County” to encourage engagement with other groups. His team worked with “Max Loves Midland” to showcase opportunities to find connections and to offer help. People can find support groups and clubs, going back to that idea of connecting with the community.” He followed up on that later in the program when Mortensen asked about getting involved in 2024, “There are so many ways to get involved in this community, whether it be through your faith community, school or places like senior services, or service clubs, all those kinds of things.”

Mortensen urged people to first complete the mental health survey.  Then, she says if you haven’t already  “go to the “Max loves Midland” website, a connection tool for midland’s community. “Check out Max Loves Midland, …. A great connection tool for our community …. To bring everyone together,” she says.

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Read more articles by Ralph E. Wirtz.

Ralph E. Wirtz is a native Midlander who retired from the Midland Daily News as a managing editor in 2015. He has been freelancing since then in between traveling and volunteering. He has four adult children, all who graduated from Bullock Creek High School as he did. He is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a Central Michigan University grad. He can be reached at