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City cut from health contest

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Columbus was sidelined on the Way to Wellville, but the city will still join the larger community of Greater Wellville.

After making it to the final 10 from a pool of 41 cities, Columbus/Bartholomew County officials were told Thursday that the city is not among the five who will compete in a community health challenge known as the Way to Wellville.

Columbus leaders were hoping for a chance to participate in the challenge to produce visible improvements in five measures of health and economic vitality over the next five years. The application effort was led by the Healthy Communities Initiative and the Columbus Regional Health Foundation.


The decision was announced just 10 days after representatives from the sponsoring organization — the Health Initiative Coordination Council, also known as HICCup — toured Columbus to learn about existing health initiatives.

HICCup CEO Rick Brush said all three team members who visited Aug. 4 were impressed with the area’s level of innovation.

“We think really highly of the community,” he said. “Columbus Regional Health has done a fantastic job of pulling in all the other stakeholders, and you’re making tremendous progress.”

Beth Morris, executive director of Healthy Communities, said she and other leaders are naturally disappointed to not be chosen but she is thankful for the process.

But in addition to assessing each community’s readiness for success, HICCup also looked at diversity among finalists — in geography, demographics and leading organizations.

Brush said the five chosen communities — Clatsop County, Oregon; Greater Muskegon, Michigan; Lake County, California; Niagara Falls, New York; and Spartanburg, South Carolina — better represented that diversity.

HICCup founder Esther Dyson pointed out the many strengths in Columbus and Bartholomew County, including the Nurse-Family Partnership that is aimed at lowering the proportion of babies with low birth weights and the community’s focus on employability.

Marcia Conner, a third HICCup expert who visited Columbus and an expert on creating large-scale change, said Columbus inspired her with its attention to detail and a collaborative environment.

“We all can learn from what they’ve done and where they’re going,” she said.

Brush mentioned the Community Education Coalition, which focuses on early childhood education all the way through employment and a new Complete Health Improvement Project at Cummins.

“Clearly Columbus is one of the top communities in the country that’s made a commitment to health, and we’ve got a lot of confidence that you’ll be able to do that in the next five years,” he said.

He said Columbus, along with the other four finalists who were not selected, have been invited to participate in a larger network of communities called Greater Wellville. The effort will allow all 40 communities who applied to learn from and network with each other.

Brush said he recognized the community as a leader, and hopes Columbus/Bartholomew County will step up to bring Greater Wellville together.

“The practices and initiatives that we already have in place, combined with the enthusiasm for future growth and improvement, have made our community an example to other communities seeking change,” Morris said. “We are excited to partner with other participants in Greater Wellville and the leaders in national health we met through this process so that we may all learn from each other.”

Morris said Healthy Communities and partners in the community will still push forward with the three focus areas highlighted in the city’s proposal:

Create a Healthy Communities Connection Center, which would include a nurse-family partnership program to improve chronic disease care between school nurses and pediatricians.

Accelerate the health impact of Community Education Coalition initiatives and United Way’s Bartholomew County Works program.

Work with employers to encourage healthy life-style programs.

Julie Abedian, president of the Columbus Regional Health Foundation, said Columbus specifically pitched projects the community already is working on or wants to launch.

“We have learned that in aiming high, we always win,” she said. “I expect that it will be the same eventual result for our Way to Wellville plan. At CRHF, we’ll still be working hard to find the resources to advance this critical work for our community.”

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