What’s the key to improving overall health? Experts involved in a concerted Northern Kentucky health initiative believe that, much like human infrastructure, community health starts with a strong backbone.
With that thought in mind in 2014, the Health Collaborative
created Collective Impact on Health
, a steering committee made up of area health and business leaders tasked with focusing the region’s vast resources on improved health in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
The resulting initiative, Gen-H: The Health Generation
, is funded by member organizations such as the United Way, Christ Hospital, General Electric, St. Elizabeth Health Care, Greater Cincinnati Foundation and many others.
Gen-H spawned from both the realization that Ohio and Kentucky continue to rank among the unhealthiest states in the nation and the understanding that individual health can vary drastically based on factors like income, race, ethnicity and location.
“In public health, we know that diseases and health problems do not respect geo-political borders,” Northern Kentucky Health Department
District Director Lynne Saddler says about Gen-H’s collaborative mission. “Our populations cross the river and intermingle every day, so having a regional approach to health reinforces local efforts and conversely, and local efforts support regional initiatives.”
Northern Kentucky health goes under the microscope
Using a multi-variable predictive model, the steering committee’s first step was to analyze the potential effects of more than 20 different health improvement initiatives on our region.
The resulting report echoes many tenets of the LiveWell NKY initiative
introduced last month, calling for Tristate groups to invest in healthful “interventions” that include broader messaging, better coordinated resources and incentive programs for organizations and individuals who successfully adopt healthy approaches to things like smoking cessation and increased activity.
The report also called for immediate focus on two chronic diseases: obesity and stress.
“Stress is a major contributor to poor health habits like smoking and poor diet,” Health Collaborative Senior Vice President of External Affairs Laura Randall says. “A great first step is addressing stress as a community, with greater emphasis on healthy coping and behavioral health support.”
The report notes that while additional research will be necessary — and challenging, given inherent flaws in health data collection — a promising framework has begun to emerge, with hopeful features that include proven organizational support for fresh food access, diet and physical play; increased public interest in healthy options; and rising prevalence of employee benefits packages that support wellness, stress reduction and preventive care.
The ‘braided rope’ of regional health
Encouraged by its findings, the committee's next step was to develop a set of objectives for 2020 known as the Triple Aim, each with a corresponding action item:
70 percent of people in our community will report having excellent or very good health.
95 percent of people in our community will report having an appropriate place for healthcare.
Our region will rank in the highest quartile for low healthcare spending.
Through Gen-H, Randall hopes the area's health departments will be prompted to take a closer look at our approach to sick care, ensuring that patients with hypertension and diabetes are receiving well-controlled care in an effort to reduce the need for inpatient care and emergency room visits. Similarly, an outcomes-based payer system could have the power to create incentives for providers to plan more effectively and provide post-procedure support.
“It’s sort of like a braided rope," Randall says. "Providers are one strand, but patients and payers like Medicaid and Medicare play a major role, too."
Community-wide health starts with individuals
Health experts like Stacy Sims believe the real key to improving health is providing consistent places, groups and programs that residents can implement in their everyday routines.
“Every culture since the beginning of time has had contemplative practices,” says Sims, whose award-winning True Body Project
helps youth and adolescents develop positive self-image through mindfulness and meditation. “Broadening the definition is the first step — that’s where people start thinking, ‘Oh, even gardening counts as meditation?’ — and the next step is giving people places and set times where they can get together with other people and practice slowing down and intentionally doing something for their health.”
That’s exactly the type of thinking Sims wants to foster in her other projects. Mindful Music Moments
is a program that allows music supplied by the city’s symphony and orchestra to be played over the morning announcements in participating schools, while City Silence
offers local residents opportunities to gather in various public spaces to, as she puts it, “sit and be quiet for a while.”
“The bad news is the amount of stress we’re under is untenable,” Sims says. “The good news is people are ready to embrace new and different ways to feel healthier.”
Lynne Saddler agrees that, for initiatives like Gen-H to succeed, they must reach people on a personal level.
“Each of us can commit to specific ways that we can make health a priority — making healthy food choices, being more active, getting enough rest and relaxation to help reduce stress, quitting smoking,” Saddler says. “We don't have to run marathons or eat twigs, we can just try to get more steps in our day or make a point to eat something green at each meal. We can also take advantage of activities, events and assets in our communities that help us be healthy. So many of them are free.”
Saddler’s suggestions for individual, small group and community involvement in the Gen-H initiative include:
• Exploring Gen-H on Facebook
and sharing posts with friends;
• Experimenting with healthy dishes for events and potlucks;
• Organizing a morning or evening neighborhood group walk;
• Opting for creative school and community fundraisers instead of candy sales;
• Patronizing local farmers markets;
• Exploring your local grocery store, reading labels and steering clear of junk-food aisles; and
• Volunteering to help maintain a local green space.
“We all need to start by saying, ‘I am Gen-H’ and taking on the challenge of generating health in our region,” Saddler says.