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Columbus picked for sweet 16 of health contest

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Columbus is on the Way to Wellville, and at the end of the road is a healthier community.

The Health Initiative Coordinating Council, also called HICCup, has selected Columbus/Bartholomew County as one of 16 semifinalists to participate in a national health competition.

Five communities across the country will be named in the coming months to participate in the five-year Way to Wellville contest, competing against each other to make the greatest improvements in five measures of health.


Semifinalists were asked to submit proposals by June 20 detailing their vision and plans for the next five years, and the HICCup advisory board is currently reviewing those. A smaller number of communities — likely about eight — will be chosen for site visits in July and August, which will determine the final five.

If Columbus/Bartholomew County earns a spot in the competition, HICCup will measure how the city and county influence healthy behaviors, how much is saved in health care costs, what effect it has on the county and whether the effort can be sustained.

The group also will look at an issue specific to this area, such as smoking, and how the city and county are working to improve health outcomes in that area.

Beth Morris, director of Healthy Communities, is leading the effort in the contest with the help of the Columbus Regional Health Foundation.

“I think we have a pretty good shot,” Morris said, citing the city’s long history of collaboration among different sectors. “Health care, education, the public sector, private business, social services and private funders have worked together to tackle some pretty challenging issues.”

Morris said the contest aligns with the mission of the Healthy Community Initiative, which started in 1994 with the goal of improving the health and quality of life of Bartholomew County residents.

HICCup will work with the five finalists much the same way a start-up accelerator supports a promising business idea.

“The idea behind the Way to Wellville is not just to make a measurable difference in five places, but to design and deliver a comprehensive approach to health that can be replicated broadly,” HICCup CEO Rick Brush said.

The organization will not supply money directly to communities — although there is a prize for the winner at the end and incentives throughout — but will foster collaboration. HICCup will provide one navigator per community who is trained to engage advisers, partners and vendors, and the five finalists will have access to a network of experts.

Contest organizers compared the contest to the TV show “Shark Tank,” where aspiring entrepreneurs bring their ideas to wealthy investors.

Columbus/Bartholomew County, if selected, will be responsible for developing plans and pitches for health, and HICCup will find investors and donors — potentially raising between $15 to $50 million for infrastructure improvements, such as parks, gyms, trails and more.

“We will set our own course, but HICCup will work with us to support and refine, to test and learn, to help us be successful,” Morris said. “We will be a learning lab for accelerated learning about what it takes to create real health in our community.”

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