The St. Clair County 4th Annual Health Policy Summit was held at McKendree University Thursday and speakers talked to the audience about how different agencies and organizations could work together to improve the overall health of the citizens of the county.
The county recently received a four-year grant from the state through the We Choose Health initiative to continue the efforts to improve the health of all the communities in the county. The summit is organized by members of the St. Clair County Health Care Commission, the Get Up & Go! Campaign, YMCA of Southwest Illinois and the Willard C. Scrivner, M.D. Public Health Foundation.
"The question is: How do we improve the wealth and well-being of the community while we improve our health?" said Kevin Hutchinson, executive director of the St. Clair County Health Department. "All of these agencies are working across the spectrum to improve public health. We have all the moving parts -- how can we get them in sync? All the different parts have their own role, but how do we get them to work together, to move together?"
The county's goal is to see marked, measurable improvement in the health of 270,000 citizens in communities across the county and become one of the healthiest counties in America by 2020. The Get Up & Go! Campaign began five years ago in an effort to begin improving the health of the county after a study released in 2010 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranked the health of St. Clair County 101st out of 102 counties in the state.
"That knocked us off our feet a little bit," said Mark Peters, director of community health for the St. Clair County Health Department. Peters is also the director for the St. Clair County We Choose Health Initiative. "We knew we had some issues but we didn't realize how many issues we had to address."
The county has been taking action to become healthier. The county now ranks an overall 94th in the state, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study updated on Nov. 1. But, the county is still ranked 99th out of 102 counties in the physical environment category, meaning it ranks poorly in access of citizens to recreational facilities, access to healthy food and a high percentage of fast-food restaurants.
In the health behaviors category, the county ranks 90th in the state for the percentage of adults who smoke, are obese, drink excessively, have a sexually transmitted disease and a high teen birth rate.
Now, more than 150 organizations and communities are part of the countywide movement for health and wellness, and the campaign has raised more than $1.2 million in funding for local cooperative efforts to improve and sustain active living and healthy eating in schools, businesses, faith communities and neighborhoods.
At past summits, healthy eating, active living, and health and wellness were the themes.
This year the summit focused on initiatives to use the We Choose Health Initiative grant to develop Complete Street communities, School Health and Safety programs and Tobacco-Free Multi-Unit Housing. The campaign plans to work with federal and local government agencies to turn public housing buildings into smoke-free units over the next several years.
Monte Roulier, co-founder and president of Community Initiatives, was the keynote speaker at the event. The organization is a network of professional and organizations who work to build healthy and whole communities. The organization looks nationwide to determine what health initiatives are working, and which are not. He noted that while 70 percent of how healthily and individual is is determined by behaviors and environment, only 4 percent of $2.2 trillion spent on national health is spent on preventing health problems. The rest is spent on treating illness and disease that could have been prevented through education and a healthier community environment.
"We've created environments that in some ways are more conducive to disease than to health," Roulier said. He pointed to nationwide efforts to increase healthier eating through community gardens, community-supported agriculture, farmer's markets and the regulation of fast food drive-through locations. He also indicated that communities who focus on increasing active living in their neighborhoods through sidewalks, paths, multi-use paths and bike lanes, as well as the design of neighborhoods and Complete Streets.
Complete Streets are streets designed to work for everybody, not just vehicles.
"Complete Streets contribute to healthy living in the community. They stimulate economic activity and bring value to the neighborhood," said Emily Fultz, economic development and planning manager for Belleville. "Streets no longer serve everyone well enough. They need to be better designed to serve all users, not just cars, but pedestrians, bikers and those who use transit. Communities need streets that everyone can use, no matter how they choose to move around."
For more information about the community health campaign, visit getupgo.info.