OSWEGO — The Oswego County Health Department is preparing to establish a better-informed community by looking at how to treat trauma in a more effective way.

The effort has grown from the health department’s Strategic Planning Board, which for the last two years has garnered research and input internally from staff and also from the community at large.

“How do we create a new culture that is knowledgeable about this information, and how to treat people in the future?” said health department Director of Patient Services Vera Dunsmoor. “How are we going to make our workforce stronger? We don’t want to be the health department we were 5-10 years ago.”

After administering an exhaustive series of surveys to their staff and community focus groups, health department officials say they’ll use the results to modify how they providing services.

Among the questions asked on the surveys were ratings of the strengths of the health department, ways it could improve, pressing needs, solutions to the pressing needs and on the community focus group survey, what respondents liked least.

At a meeting earlier this month of the Oswego County Legislature health committee officials set a three- to-five-years to on promoting a trauma informed community.

“This is part of our strategic planning,” Dunsmoor said. “And how to educate our employees and to bring them to the forefront of what trauma informed is and where and why we’re moving in this direction.”

According to Senior Public Health Educator Diane Oldenburg, the health department is looking to shift the current thinking about trauma to a more constructive approach.

“Trauma informed communities shift thinking from ‘What is wrong with you?’ to ‘What has happened to you?’” Oldenburg said.

With this evolution of thinking, Oldenburg said they hope to have more people feel comfortable with seeking help or going to the doctor for appointments. Some patients who suffer from trauma could possibly experience a stress response to getting help – exactly the opposite intended effect.

Oldenburg used a hypothetical example of someone not going to a doctor’s appointment because they had a traumatic experience that left them afraid of confined spaces and how being completely alone in a tiny room at the doctor’s office could perhaps trigger that individual.

In certain cases, those who suffer from trauma are skeptical of those who are trying to help. Oldenburg said the health department wants those who have suffered from trauma to feel safe when using their services.

“[We want to] empower Oswego County residents to seek help,” Oldenburg said.

Among the priorities in the future will be efforts to create a more comfortable environment, improving engagement and taking a holistic care approach to better meet patient needs.

According to Dunsmoor, employee education will focus on topics such as early childhood trauma and how it impacts across a lifespan.

“We know that we have a high rate of child abuse and neglect in this county,” Oldenburg said, noting the health department’s ongoing Healthy Families Program, which they say will hopefully reduce abuse and early neglect.

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