City Metro Health Director Colleen Bridger
San Antonio Metro Health Director Colleen Bridger outlined a plan to streamline the focus of her department. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The public health priorities for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District were presented to City Council on Thursday as part of the 2019 budget proposal and included funding requests to continue air quality research and expand mental health services for children.

Metro Health Director Colleen Bridger, who is in her second year as director, said that the department’s 2017-2019 Strategic Plan includes increasing childhood immunization rates, decreasing ozone levels, addressing adult Type 2 diabetes, and improving rates of obesity in children and adults.

The entire Metro Health budget is more than $44 million, which includes $4.8 million in direct funds from the City, $13 million from the City’s general fund, and the remainder from federal funding, with grants aimed at decreasing teen pregnancy rates, improving community nutrition and immunization rates, and treatment and prevention programs for people with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.

To supplement federal funding for chronic disease prevention programs in 2019, Metro Health applied for two additional grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address the impact of chronic health conditions have on a city where 71 percent of adults in Bexar County were classified as overweight or obese in 2014.

“If we can get even one of them, it would significantly improve our ability to respond to diabetes and obesity in San Antonio,” Bridger said.

Bridger also said Metro Health was pursuing accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board in an attempt to improve the city’s ability to respond to public health concerns.

The accreditation process, which is voluntary and includes a year-long analysis of health care partnerships, public health data, and service outcomes, would cost San Antonio $35,000, but would highlight to funding providers that services provided by Metro Health are best practices and outcome driven.

The budget proposal also has a request for two years of funding for an additional staff member to work with the Department of State Health Services and Pre-K 4 SA to create awareness about trauma as a public health issue and increase access to mental health treatment for children.

Bridger told the Rivard Report that during the past year, the department has been educating community members and social service agencies about the long-term impact adverse childhood experiences, such as emotional abuse and neglect and violence in the home, have on physical health.

“We have made a very compelling argument that we need to invest in as far upstream as we can go, and that [addressing children’s mental health] will benefit every other person in the city,” Bridger said, noting that traumatic experiences are risk factors for disease, disability, and premature death.

The new staff member would be involved in the newly formed Trauma-Informed Consortium, work to secure grants to increase educational initiatives and access to care, and create a referral hub for people needing services, she said.

Ahead of the budget proposal presentation, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who chairs the Council’s Community Health and Equity Committee, said on Wednesday that the high rates of child abuse and intimate partner violence in San Antonio warrant more funding for programs to address the long-term health impact these experiences cause.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7)
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Sandoval said collecting data on specific interventions to address adverse childhood experiences would aide in the long-term effectiveness of strategies.

Metro Health also requested one year of funding to continue air quality analysis in San Antonio. Bridger said the City needs to fine-tune the research in order to be able to use the data to decrease local ozone levels.

Bridger noted that the city needed to continue to work toward improving and meeting ozone standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The department also will continue to pursue a CityHealth gold medal, a distinction given to cities with policies in place to effectively address access to healthy food, earned sick leave, affordable housing, and safe streets initiatives to that encourage walking, biking, and public transportation use.

“We want to show that we are using evidence to inform our public health policies and make changes, and communicate to the community that we are meeting national standards,” Bridger said.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.