Way to Wellville representatives were surprised and impressed with Columbus’ pitch to be selected as one of the final five communities to compete in a nationwide health challenge.
The three-member panel spent time touring Columbus this week to determine the city’s prospects for competitively becoming a healthier community.
“Columbus has a spirit of innovation and design that is unusual for a small community,” said Marcia Conner, a team member with the Health Initiative Coordinating Council (HICCup).
Esther Dyson, council founder and an investor in various business startups, said she was surprised by the amount of energy the city demonstrated in its commitment to being healthy.
Columbus is among 10 communities competing to earn a spot in the Way to Wellville national health competition. The final five will compete over five years to make the greatest strides in five measures of health.
If selected, Columbus and Bartholomew County would be given access to a network of health experts and investors to improve community health, much like the television show “Shark Tank” helps aspiring entrepreneurs by funding their ideas.
A decision on the final five, which will come after the HICCup team visits all 10 semifinalist cities, is expected by Aug. 15.
Representatives from key health partners Monday emphasized how they collaborate to improve community health.
The panel heard from Healthy Communities, Columbus Regional Hospital, Cummins Inc., the Community Education Coalition and Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Additionally, representatives from leading businesses, nonprofit agencies, colleges and universities, and foundations contributed in the dialogue.
The degree of collaboration among community groups and businesses was the biggest message Monday’s presentations were intended to convey, said Beth Morris, director of community health partnerships for Columbus Regional Health.
“They are really looking for a community that is able to work across sectors,” Morris said. “The fact that we had almost 50 people (from different areas of the community) at the meeting made a very positive impression on them.”
The half-day visit by the HICCup panel began at Columbus Regional Hospital with community representatives providing information about Columbus’ health network. Surrounded by community and business representatives, the three HICCup representatives asked questions and learned more about how the community provides health care and current wellness initiatives.
The visit continued with a trip to the Cummins Inc. downtown corporate headquarters, where the Wellville panel heard about the company’s participation in a corporate health program. The Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) is a national health initiative designed to improve an individual’s health by promoting lifestyle changes and decreasing risk factors for disease.
Cummins recently participated in a pilot version of CHIP in which selected employees attended 18 informational sessions over a period of two months. On average, the 39 Cummins employees who participated in the trial lost 6.9 pounds.
Columbus Regional Health representatives then took the panel on a tour of the WellConnect facility at Third and Washington streets. WellConnect, which opened in December, provides health services for the downtown population of Columbus by providing relaxation and strength and conditioning courses, walk-in treatment for minor illnesses and health care guidance.
During the visit, business and community leaders answered questions about how area residents could develop healthier lifestyles.
Schools involved, too
BCSC Superintendent John Quick talked to the panel about the school corporation’s efforts to promote health and wellness in students — particularly, the availability of healthy food options — as well as areas that could be improved with more resources and funding.
HICCup members were interested in progress the school district has made with school lunches and the strict specifications it has for fresh produce and ingredients ordered from suppliers.
Quick said the district has increased its requirements for the quality of food that is requested when taking bids from providers and also does not currently have a single fryer in any lunchroom in the district.
“They wanted to see evidence (that BCSC is promoting healthy choices), but they also wanted to know how we were going to get better,” Quick said.
Improving communication between school nurses and family physicians is an important initiative that Quick said the school corporation is focusing on. The resources and funding possibilities available through the Way to Wellville program could help the Columbus-based school district find the best solution for the initiative, he said.
“Sometimes there are these barriers with the doctors communicating with the (school) nurses,” Quick said. “(The question is) how can we break through those barriers and have better communication between the nurses and doctors and health providers?”
Home-visit health care
Morris told the Wellville panel about Columbus Regional Health’s plans for new programs to the area, including a nurse-family partnership. The program would allow nurses to make home visits as they serve first-time mothers through their child’s first two years of life.
In its 30-year history, Morris said, the program has been effective in reducing arrest records later in the child’s life, reducing emergency room visits, helping mothers who participate earn a higher income and a variety of other benefits.
It was one of the community outreach programs that seemed to appeal to the Way to Wellville panelists.
“Clearly they help the community beyond the clinic doors,” said Rick Brush, chief executive officer of HICCup.
While clinical care is important, presenters wanted to focus on health care’s impact on the community as a whole, Morris said.