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Editorial: Improved health result of conscious decisions

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RECENT stories in The Republic have highlighted the county’s health. It’s getting better.

Monday we reported that Bartholomew County ranked 11th among Indiana’s 92 counties for clinical care, including patient-to-doctor and patient-to-dentist ratios; preventable hospital stays; and diabetic and mammography screenings.

The ranking in a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is an improvement over the the county’s 14th-rated performance last year and could signal a return to the sixth and ninth place showings in 2010 and 2011.

Sunday brought another dose of good news from the same study. Bartholomew County was catapulted from 59th to 30th place in the state in terms of beneficial health behavior, which covers such areas as adult obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted infections, teen birth rates and deaths from motor vehicle crashes.

It is important to note that the progress that the county has made on these two fronts is not by happenstance. People living in Bartholomew County are a lot healthier and have access to greater care because of conscious decisions made over a period of several years by community leaders and health-related institutions and organizations.

The tremendous growth in access to clinical care over the past two decades can be traced in large part to a decision by leaders of what was then called Bartholomew County Hospital to transform the institution into a regional health care center, one that would offer a range of services to a broader geographic area.

The growth of the hospital, now named Columbus Regional to reflect the expanded mission, has led to a sea change in attitudes among residents here and in the area. Services and special needs that local residents once thought available only in nearby metropolitan areas such as Indianapolis and Louisville now are accessible in their community.

Those expanded services also have served as a magnet for physicians in a variety of specialties to move to Columbus.

While the improved access is largely attributable to the growth of the hospital, the community itself also deserves to take a bow for support and involvement in a number of health-related initiatives.

For instance, the growth in the number of mammography screenings is due in great part to increased community awareness, brought about by such programs as the Think Pink events that shone a bright light on the subject of breast cancer and resulted in more women obtaining the screenings.

The overall improvement in health among county residents can be traced in some measure to efforts by the Healthy Communities Initiative, which for several years has led the charge to provide incentives for local residents to take part in their own physical well-being.

That proactive attitude has spread like wildfire through all areas of county life. Smoking cessation programs sponsored by the Tobacco Awareness team have helped hundreds kick the habit, and the effort was given an official imprimatur when the city of Columbus adopted a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places.

The REACH and other physical activity programs launched by Healthy Communities, with the help of a multimillion dollar federal grant, put hundreds of residents on the path to more active lifestyles. Schools throughout the county have adopted healthier menus and taken unhealthy foods out of vending machines.

There still is a long road to travel in the overall effort to make Bartholomew County a healthier community, but the path taken so far has produced results that can be built upon.

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