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WMC Foundation launches rebrand targeting trauma factor in public health

Natrona Collective Health Trust CEO Meredith Benton. (Gregory Hirst)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Medical Center Foundation has announced its rebranding as the Natrona Collective Health Trust (NCHT) and its new strategic plan for addressing the root causes of negative health outcomes in the county.

The Trust’s CEO Meredith Benton told Oil City the plan was essentially created by the community itself through individual interview and focus groups.

Writ large, the strategic plan is to “build the foundation for lifelong health among Natrona County community members by advancing the mental wellbeing of young people through trust-based philanthropy and systems change.”

Many of the poor health outcomes in the county (liver and respiratory disease, accidents, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, and self-harm) are preceded by behavioral and mental health issues, the Trust’s research showed. Many of those issues have their roots in poverty, housing, abuse, neglect, and other socioeconomic and cultural factors that the local nonprofit community is working to address, Benton said. 

“We must address the systems creating the symptoms to achieve positive health outcomes for our community,” Benton wrote.

Last December, the Foundation board awarded over $4 million over two years to 27 different Natrona County nonprofits, with a focus on “organizations that specifically serve underprivileged populations and/or organizations that provide mental and behavioral health services,” Benton wrote to Oil City.

The role of early trauma, known as “adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)” arising from certain socioeconomic conditions, is a key part of the new strategic plan’s focus.

“There’s a whole body of science that shows that … if you have four or more of those ACEs, it can have pretty dramatic physical and mental health impacts if those issues are not addressed,” Benton said.

20% of respondents in a Wyoming Department of Health survey in 2020 reported four or more ACEs, one of the highest rates (if not the highest) in the country, Benton said.

Benton said the new strategic plan’s “two-generational approach” (addressing the impact of ACEs and supporting systems that can prevent them) is key to improving long-term health overall in Natrona County.

“We know we need to work adults to help them heal from that trauma,” Benton said, “as well as make sure that our systems are in place to support children and families to either prevent trauma from occurring or shorten the length of time that the trauma is occurring.”

The Trust’s support for the nonprofits that work on the front-line of these issues goes beyond the financial, Benton said, to include technical assistance and consulting. Most nonprofits have few, if any, staff dedicated to administration and grant application.

To that end, five scholarships were created with the University of Wyoming for nonprofit leaders and staff to get masters degrees in public administration, Benton said. The Trust is also looking to hire a team of grant-writers to help nonprofits apply for grant money that is otherwise left unclaimed.

Benton said there is also work to be done ensuring that the community is aware of and able to access the resources that are available.

“The onus is on the person needing help to figure out how to get help.”

Building inclusion and community engagement is also a piece of the puzzle, Benton said.

Benton told the Natrona County Commission last fall that LGBTQ+ communities, women, and people of color are disproportionately affected by a range of issues including self-harm, substance abuse, and chronic absence from school.