What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “vulnerable populations”? We might think of the homeless, the poor or the elderly.

But Yumans who attended the Arizona Town Hall earlier this year learned that every single person is at risk of becoming part of the state's vulnerable populations.

“Arizona’s Vulnerable Populations” was the topic of the 104th Arizona Town Hall held in April in Tucson.

Seven Yuma residents attended, including Madeleine Coil, president and CEO of United Way of Yuma County; Machele Headington, Yuma Regional Medical Center vice president of communications and marketing; Phillip Fitzgerald, administrative director of Adult Acute Care Services at YRMC; Shelley Mellon, president of R. L. Jones Insurance; Suzanne M. Nicholls-Joyner, attorney with Byrne & Benesch P.C.; Shawn Strandberg, YRMC administrator of community support programs; and Gina Whittington, human services director at Western Arizona Council of Governments.

Now that a few months have passed and recommendations have been made, the Yuma Sun reached out to some of the participants to find out what lessons they learned and what they hope is achieved in the wake of the town hall. Two participants, Coil and Headington, shared their thoughts.

Town hall attendees addressed the needs of vulnerable individuals and what could be done to prevent them from falling into crisis.

“Striking to me was the fact that everyone faces some risk of falling into crisis. It is not just a matter of income,” Coil said.

Headington thought she knew what “vulnerable populations” means. “I was embarrassed because I had no idea. Then I realized most of us don’t,” she said.

“People all around us are vulnerable. Any of us could be vulnerable. We could develop an illness and we can’t work for a year. We could have a car accident. We could have a master’s degree or a doctorate and our company closes down,” she added.

Headington praised the Arizona Town Hall process, calling it unique. “I don’t know of other states that use this process.”

Participants “discussed and dialogued and looked for solutions,” she added.

Coil pointed out that solutions were explored while keeping in mind the potential costs that could impact local communities and the state. The result was a consensus of recommendations. The 23-page report with full recommendations is available at www.aztownhall.org.

“The key is to educate and assist individuals and the community at large about how to better weather a crisis, develop strengths, connections and resources, to help limit the impact of a crisis situation,” Coil said.

She also stressed the need for long-term fixes rather than continue with the practice of short-term “bandage” solutions.

The consensus among participants was to “encourage collaboration among nonprofits, governmental entities, businesses and others to improve Arizonans’ ability to weather a crisis,” Coil explained.

“This may include collaboration with financial institutions to encourage savings and increase financial literacy (and) encouraging philanthropic funding for programs to assist vulnerable populations that demonstrate use of evidence-based practices,” she said.

Groups will be encouraged to use the Arizona Town Hall report to become further educated about the issues facing vulnerable populations and to encourage partnerships, Coil added.

“Individuals can become educated and be engaged civically,” she noted.

“I look forward to using the data gained through the research document, along with the discussions and recommendations from the Arizona Town Hall participants to work to address conditions that may place individuals in a vulnerable position.”

As a leader at YRMC, Headington came back to Yuma thinking of the hospital’s employees, recognizing “the fact that anyone at any time could become part of the vulnerable populations.”

Among the simple steps that employees and other residents can take to avoid falling into a crisis or prepare for it is to open a savings account, she noted.

“Every dollar or every $5 you put away can make a difference, so you'll have something,” Headington said.

Among the lessons she brought home was a reminder to “be a good human being” and keep an eye out for those who might be struggling.

Participants discussed ways they can help others, perhaps a next-door neighbor, by becoming familiar with the available resources.

The information might be valuable even for oneself, in case of depression, loss of job or traumatic event.

“Would I know what to do? The answer is no. I don’t know enough about resources out there if suddenly I find myself struggling,” Headington said.

Something that impressed Headington is how small communities in particularly share resources. For example, Somerton and San Luis and Wellton and Dateland “do everything together.”

And small communities are known for being very resourceful. “The school bus driver might be the ambulance driver or the crosswalk guard,” she noted.

Another lesson she learned is that everyone is in it together. “Ultimately when the state wins, we all win.”

Headington looks forward to the next town hall which will focus on the state’s economic development. A new approach will be used by holding mini-town halls in each community before the big one in October.

That means that input from Yuma’s town hall will be fed into the research paper used at the state event, she noted.

The 105th Arizona Town Hall with the topic “Arizona’s Economy” will be held Nov. 2-5 at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Attendance is by invitation only; to receive an invitation call the Town Hall office at 602-252-9600.

Mara Knaub can be reached at mknaub@yumasun.com or 928-539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub.

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