After nearly a year of planning, the Teton County Prevention Coalition is ready to ramp up its efforts to combat a range of issues.

Under the auspices of the Teton County Health Department, the coalition includes agencies and community organizations, each with a hand in curbing public health issues like underage drinking and suicide.

Since October it has been meeting at least monthly to determine how to implement the findings of the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment.

“We’ve been going through some pretty intense processes thinking about alcohol, drugs and suicide,” Prevention Program Coordinator Crystal Peacor said. “The coalition prioritized the areas and created a work plan.”

Peacor oversees the coalition. She comes from years of social work practice in rural states, from Alaska to Montana and Wyoming, and worked as a substance abuse counselor before moving into the administrative job. Her role, as well as the group itself, was born from a change in the way Wyoming funds prevention services.

Before 2012 the state contracted with organization that provided prevention services, like trainings or public service advertising campaigns, throughout the state. Then the state signed an agreement with the nonprofit Prevention Management Organization to lead prevention activities across all 23 Wyoming counties and place staff in them.

But the organization’s contract ran out June 30, 2018.

Its efforts were hampered by $90 million in cuts to the Wyoming Department of Health’s budget in 2016 and the Legislature’s decision to remove $2.1 million for substance abuse and suicide prevention in 2017. The Legislature’s 2018 session restored $1.5 million in suicide prevention funding. Overall, it allocated $8 million for counties to distribute for prevention activities, including $2 million earmarked specifically for efforts related to suicide.

To receive the funds — the more than $333,000 for Teton County was calculated based on population — counties applied to the state and agreed to follow guidelines for reporting how the money is spent and careful delineations of how the funds can be used. The Teton County Board of County Commissioners selected the Health Department to manage the grant.

“Suicide was funded with the most money,” Peacor said, “then underage drinking, adult binge drinking, tobacco, and opioids and other drugs.”

The Health Department has conducted the Community Health Needs Assessment for several years, gathering more data each time. The study allows the department to make informed decisions regarding its programs and where best to allocate money.

“I wish we could do everything under the sun,” Health Department Director Jodie Pond said. “But unfortunately we can’t.”

The formation of the coalition allows the department to identify which county and town agencies or nonprofits are best situated to tackle a particular problem. Entities apply for funding based on their scope, and the Health Department disburses the funds. About half the grant money is available for community interventions, Pond said.

For example, the Curran-Seeley Foundation applied for and received money in four of the target areas: underage drinking, adult binge drinking, tobacco prevention, and opioid and other drug prevention.

“We’re doing a number of different things,” Curran-Seeley Director Trudy Birkmeyer Funk said, “like providing alcohol-free beverages at events. We also worked with the schools a lot and did research for new prevention curriculums, from fourth grade to high school.”

Other programs the coalition is funding include the Assist two-day training, which teaches people how to help friends or family who may be at risk for suicide and “keeping them safe until they can get into the next level of care,” Pond said.

The Jackson Police Department has two programs the coalition is funding in this initial run of the grant. The first is the Training for Intervention Procedures program, better known as TIPS, which educates servers and bartenders about the dangers and signs of excessive alcohol consumption. It is not mandatory for establishments to have their employees undergo the training, unless they fail a compliance check. Restaurants can opt to take the training, however.

The police department is also receiving funding for Crisis Intervention Training, which is meant to give officers skills to defuse confrontations without violence and better deal with people who have mental illnesses.

The grant, which started in June 2018, lasts for two years. Because it is a state grant, the funding isn’t guaranteed for another two years, but Health Department administrators hope that with all the planning they have put in, the state renews the grant come next year.

In the meantime Peacor is working with the state to maintain the coalition’s work plan, which outlines where the money is going and how it conforms to the state’s requirements. Because the coalition is so new and is currently funded on a two-year cycle, the uncertainty has the advantage of being able to be flexible.

After funding things like TIPS server training, the Health Department will be able to review data and determine each program’s efficacy, giving it the chance to shift funding around as programs evolve and needs change.

The work plan is “certainly going to be a working document,” Peacor said.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-5902 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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