When people think about St. Charles Health System, most think about hospitals, clinics, doctors and nurses. And with good reason! Taking care of Central Oregonians is what we do here, every single day.

But there are many ways to take care of Central Oregonians that don’t involve a visit to one of our facilities.

For example, did you know St. Charles has a Community Benefit program that funds services and organizations working to improve the health of the local population, with a special focus on the disadvantaged and the medically underserved?

Every three years, St. Charles — through the Community Benefit department — conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment for each of the four regions served by our hospitals. The resulting report helps guide the selection of a three-year priority for the program.

From 2017 to 2019, Community Benefit’s priority was suicide prevention. In that same timespan, we provided 143 suicide prevention trainings (including 11 in Spanish) to more than 2,500 people and implemented the reliable and valid Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale in our clinics.

We can’t tackle suicide prevention alone, of course, which is why we also awarded more than $240,000 in funding to regional organizations that are doing this important work.

That work will continue to be important, and you can be sure St. Charles will remain engaged in regional suicide prevention efforts. At the same time, we have selected a new strategic priority to guide our Community Benefit program through 2022: alcohol misuse prevention.

In a region where the production and consumption of alcohol is a prominent part of our social lives and our economy, prioritizing the prevention of its misuse may seem like a tough row to hoe. But that’s exactly why our health system’s leadership believes this is a major health need in Central Oregon. Our chief physician executive, Dr. Jeff Absalon, explains:

“Alcohol misuse is a root cause of many chronic health and societal problems — liver disease, fetal alcohol syndrome, child abuse, domestic violence and the cause of many auto accidents that damage lives. If we can reduce binge drinking, increase identification and interventions for alcoholism, and ensure that the norm for community gatherings that include alcohol is to drink responsibly, then Central Oregon will be healthier and safer.”

So, for this three-year period, St. Charles will work to develop innovative ways to improve access to alcohol-related care, increase educational opportunities and awareness, and reduce the negative impacts associated with alcohol misuse to the health of our communities. We’ll also provide grant funding to local organizations working on this issue, just as we did with suicide prevention.

Alcohol misuse prevention grants will be awarded quarterly, and applications are now being accepted. You can learn more here.

We have three other Community Benefit grants available, too: one for those providing basic needs such as shelter, food or safety; sponsorships for community events and/or fundraisers; and small grants for those seeking $500 or less. Again, you can learn more here.

Throughout 2020, we rightfully celebrated the caregivers who are risking their own health on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. And we should continue to celebrate them.

But as the calendar turns to a new year, I just want to take a moment to highlight our Community Benefit program, too.

It may not wear scrubs, gloves and a mask, but it is an integral component of our goal here at St. Charles to create America’s healthiest community, together.


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