Would you find it easier to live a healthier lifestyle if your workplace sponsored a wellness program for employees? Would you eat healthier if you could see the calorie counts of all the food items at your favorite restaurant? Would you exercise more if you had more incentives to help you start — and stick to — this habit?
Those are some of the ideas Harvey County health officials and other community members have been brainstorming over the past several months at meetings about a recent community health needs assessment. The goal of the assessment process was to evaluate what Harvey County’s health needs are and to develop a plan to meet those needs.
Harvey County Health Department Director Lynnette Redington is pleased with the participation in the assessment, and the ideas that have come out of the brainstorming sessions.
“I was very encouraged by the number of voices we were able to have at the tables,” she said. “... All of that really brought a good richness to our discussions.”
Participants identified three main priorities they thought Harvey County should focus on. They further broke these ideas down and came up with ideas about how to accomplish these goals in the community:
Priority No. 1: Promoting health, wellness and chronic disease prevention through health education for all ages; healthy lifestyle behaviors such as good hygiene, nutrition and exercise; weight loss; responsible alcohol use; and tobacco cessation.
Ideas for accomplishing this priority include encouraging more worksites to implement comprehensive wellness programs, and encouraging churches to promote wellness among congregations, as well; making sure smaller communities have easy access to medical, dental, prenatal and mental care; and creating a website where people can go to get county health-related information.
Priority No. 2: Improving communication and collaboration between health-care providers, between providers and the community, and within the community through placing an emphasis on fostering greater community engagement, and developing clear, consistent messaging.
Ideas for accomplishing this priority include having a resource directory readily available that helps people determine where to go for the care they need; having a consistent and effective marketing message; and encouraging different organizations — such as the health department, Newton Medical Center, Prairie View, and more — to work together for a common goal.
Priority No. 3: Focusing on youth health through promoting youth engagement in the community; offering positive youth activities as alternatives to unhealthy choices; and educating youth as early as possible on the importance of good nutrition, exercise and drug abstinence.
Ideas for accomplishing this priority include making sure youth are active participants in the plan and have a chance to help make decisions; involving various organizations, such as the health department, 4-H groups, boy and girl scouts, etc.; and collecting current data on teen pregnancy, drug use and other issues so the county’s progress can be charted.
Redington estimates Harvey County’s action plan will be finalized and ready for implementation in early 2013. She encourages community members to get involved and help kick off the plan by attending a special screening of the documentary “The Weight of the Nation: Confronting America’s Obesity Epidemic” at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 (parts 1 and 2 of the documentary) and 7 p.m. Jan. 30 (parts 3 and 4) at the Newton High School Auditorium.
She said John Leatherman of Kansas Rural Health Works, who helped to facilitate health needs assessment discussions, has worked with a variety of communities in the past and is impressed with the progress Harvey County already has made.
“We have been the most active and come the furthest in plans,” Redington said.