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Hospital develops strategy to make region healthier

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By Shannon Watkins

A community health needs assessment of the Twin Counties and Galax has found nine core problems that need to be addressed in the area.

The problems including obesity, diabetes, chronic diseases (heart disease, pulmonary, high blood pressure, cancer), economic issues, substance abuse and mental health issues, lifestyle behavior and education, access and aging, family/responsibility and teen pregnancy, and smoking/tobacco use.

The findings were discussed June 5 during the quarterly Community Advisory Group meeting at Twin County Regional Hospital.

The assessment, which was made possible through a partnership of Twin County Regional Healthcare and the Stratasan research group, was conducted over the course of two months. It includes an analysis of community health data based on individual interviews and on surveys of hospital staff and physicians.

At the meeting, it was suggested that certain issues that correlated with one another could be combined, so that they could be handled with greater effectiveness.

Hospital CEO Jon Applebaum agreed, saying, “I’m not sure we can tackle all nine of these categories. I think what we decided is to pick three that the hospital could start the process with.”

Later, he echoed this economy of approach by suggesting that the actions necessary for each problem could be combined to address multiple categories of problems.

For the Twin County region, actions were addressed under each category. For obesity, the report suggested actions such as developing a marketing plan to “brand” healthy eating, working with school systems to emphasize athletics for all students and teaching nutrition and healthy food purchase and preparation.

According to the report, the greater themes that emerged were:

• the need to create a sense of health that overarches the Twin County region that makes it easier for citizens to buy into health improvement;

• the fact that income directly relates to health outcomes;

• that a good overall picture of community health does not mean there aren’t challenged subgroups; and

• that a partnership with many organizations pooling resources will be necessary to make an impact in the community.

By way of example, part of Applebaum’s presentation focused on Lynchburg. The city was deemed one of the top 10 unhealthiest communities in the U.S. in 2008, which caused concerned citizens — two doctors at first, joined by the mayor, a health educator, the executive vice president of the regional chamber of commerce and a member of the city’s human resources department — to form the Live Healthy Lynchburg team.

This helped bring the community off the list and make it one of the Let’s Move cities, tied into First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

Applebaum used this as a model for how to transform community health in the Twin Counties region, and showed the group Live Healthy Lynchburg’s website, livehealthylynchburg.com, which contains both resources and links to resources tailored to help individuals and groups educate themselves about different aspects of healthy living

For the Twin County region, actions were addressed under each category. For obesity, the report suggested actions such as developing a marketing plan to “brand” healthy eating, working with school systems to emphasize athletics for all students and teaching nutrition and healthy food purchase and preparation.

To get citizens to turn away from tobacco use, the report suggested actions such as health education in schools and establishing smoking cessation programs.

For lifestyle behavior changes and education, the report suggested creating a community Facebook page and social media education strategy for healthy lifestyle education; implementing a pedometer program for kids 12 years old and up; and providing a discount incentive program through that will encourage exercise among seniors.

“Is the hospital thinking about taking a leading role in this?” asked a group member.

“Yes,” said Applebaum. “We have a lot of these educational resources, so yeah, definitely.”

He suggested working with the local health departments and the Mount Rogers Health District, and noted that there is already good cooperation among Galax, Grayson and Carroll.