Teresa Barton is a part of the Population Health Committee

by Vicki Heisser  |   

Adult Education Coordinator Dr. Teresa Barton discusses the Population Health Committee (PHC), a group focused on preventative care to help ensure community health, that she and others in the community have been a part of here in Valdez, AK.

Barton explains, “We're trying to ensure preventative care and different practices around town that will ensure better health outcomes for the community while simultaneously ensuring that the doctors in the hospital and everyone are not too overwhelmed.”

To achieve these outcomes, the organization focuses on different parts of the Valdez community, including seasonal members like those who work in the fisheries as fish processors. The PHC helps community members, like the fish processors, learn about ways to stay healthy, and provides information about healthcare available in Valdez, like the emergency room versus the clinic, the pharmacy, and so on. As Barton explains, the goal is to “ensure that they're receiving proper medical care and supplies.”

Barton herself got involved in the organization when PHC member Olivia Foster, RN, decided that part of their preventative care should involve not only explaining resources, but also education.

Barton notes, “Education is a huge component of well-being. And so, this idea of health that Olivia has, the vision is extremely holistic from diet, exercise, education, mental well-being.”

Barton explained the educational process like this: “Usually we go to the fisheries (Seafood processing plants) to do orientations with our seasonal workforce as they would come in and they would do their regular orientations. Our local healthcare providers, such Olivia Foster (Public Health Nurse), Terry Lynch, and Matt Wadsworth (the Director of Behavioral Health) ensure that our seasonal community members know all about preventative health and health resources in the community.  I, on the other hand, talk about some educational opportunities that we have that are free, such as GED testing and classes, Citizenship, and English classes for English language learners. It was really successful last summer; we had about 20 English as a second language students from the fish processing plants.”

Other than focusing on seasonal community members, the PHC identifies other groups in the community where they can direct their efforts. As Barton explained, one other focus has been early childhood education - infants to three-year olds. She expressed how there aren’t “many avenues for parents to find care,” so they wanted to take on this issue and see what they could do to help.

Even with the current pandemic, the PHC is still doing what it can to help with public health. Barton explains, “I'm still offering educational opportunities to my students. That's not going to go away. So, we are figuring out how to do orientations digitally and are having Seed Media help us create some great content. I'm still offering English as a Second Language classes and G.E.D. classes. And I'm going to offer them Monday through Friday. I am trying to do everything I did last year, but online.”

Barton is happy that she can still offer the GED and English language courses to the seasonal community members. “We still have a need for English as a Second Language for those that want to take that opportunity. Last year, students were very high-level English language learners. I mean, these were highly educated students that just wanted to refine their English. And so, the classes I focused on were quite academic.”

Barton is all about making sure people who live in Valdez – whether year-round or seasonally – feel welcome.

As most communication moves online given the current pandemic, Barton knows there will be a learning curve for herself and those she serves, but she also sees a benefit. “It’s a good thing because now I can develop that aspect of my program a lot more which is really important, especially in Alaska where we have such a rural population. I am busily putting together and creating new lesson plans because it's just a whole new way of teaching. For me, it's the prep at this point where I need to come up with a whole new schedule and new plan and a whole new way of doing things, because for English as a Second Language, classes are so highly interactive. And so it's a really good challenge. It's just it's a work in progress.”

Right now, so many things are a work in progress, but Barton and others on the Population Health Committee will continue to do what they can to ensure they are here to serve the Valdez community.