Monday, November 11, 2013

Draft plan for a statewide campaign for better health gets endorsement, much talk at Friedell Committee annual meeting

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

A statewide committee of volunteers is on target with its plan for a campaign to make Kentucky a healthier state, an expert in state and local health told the committee Monday.

“You guys are absolutely on the right track,” Julie Willems Van Dijk of the University of Wisconsin told the Friedell Committee for Health System Transformation at its annual meeting in Lexington.

The committee is developing a campaign that would involve many partners around the state, including health-care providers, education and business leaders, state and local health officials, and other groups and individuals interested in improving Kentucky’s poor health. The draft campaign’s working motto is “healthier, wealthier and wiser,” reflecting how education, health and economic development are related.

“Your three-legged stool of health, industry and education fits solidly within the model we’re talking about,” said Van Dijk, deputy director of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps Program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dr. Lee T. Todd Jr.
Kentucky’s health rankings – we’re first in smoking, cancer deaths and preventable hospitalizations – prompted Dr. Lee T. Todd Jr. to dub such statistics “the Kentucky uglies” when he was president of the University of Kentucky. Now part of the group developing the campaign, he told the committee in a keynote speech Sunday night, “Those are things we need to remember and repeat.”

Noting the low life expectancy in many Kentucky counties, and the wide range of life expectancy among Louisville neighborhoods, Todd asked, “Why can’t people get excited about that, or disappointed, or just mad about it?”

Kentucky ranks 44th among the states in health, and “The bottom line is, it hurts us economically,” Audrey Haynes, secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the committee Monday.

Todd noted how San Antonio reduced its obesity rate after losing a prospective employer that cited how fat the city’s sixth-graders were. He said local communities should “get mad about something and decide you’re going to change something. . . . We have just got to stop tolerating ill health.”

As examples, he cited Grant County’s successful effort to improve its health ranking, the Hopkins County oral-health program that reduced premature births, and Clark County’s effort – now funded by a small extra tax – to varnish students’ teeth to prevent cavities.

“Why can’t we get this stuff to roll across this state and make a big difference?” Todd asked. He suggested that one reason has been a shortage of leadership and courage, as demonstrated by the political dominance of traditional industries with health implications, such as coal and tobacco.

Todd said the committee needs to find “a market driver” like the state Supreme Court ruling that forced education reform in 1990 or the Russians’ launch of the first man-made satellite in 1957, which prompted national reform of science and math education.

He said the federal health-reform law could provide that spark, because it will bring many people into the health-care system and provide free preventive services. He suggested a targeted effort, such as getting the newly enrolled to check their A1C hemoglobin (a rough measure of blood sugar and an indicator of diabetes), and predicted the tests would show many of them “are diabetic but didn’t know about it.”

While the statewide campaign can focus on certain things, Todd said, it “can’t be viewed as outsiders” giving direction to local communities. He said the effort must be led by people in local communities, focusing on their local health problems. Willems said the committee could set strategic priorities from which communities could select.

As the committee met Monday, Todd and Committee Chair Jane Chiles of Lexington said the campaign needs grant money and a staff. “This subject is too important for us to nickel-and-dime it,” he said.

As Chiles adjourned the meeting, she said of the proposal, “This is a winning concept, a winning strategy.”

For a PDF copy of the committee’s draft proposal, click here.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Al Cross is director of the Institute and a member of the Friedell Committee.

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