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

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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