County coming together to improve health

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lawrence County Health and Wellness initiative launched


SOUTH POINT — Spurring community action and awareness in Lawrence County is the goal of the Lawrence County Health and Wellness Initiative, which was officially launched on Saturday.

More than two dozen stakeholders turned out for the initial organizational session, led by Ohio University Southern Professor David Lucas. Lucas hopes the group’s efforts will be able to raise Lawrence County from its last place ranking among 88 Ohio counties in terms of its health outcomes and health factors in as little as three years.

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The rankings, released earlier this year by the Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health (MATCH) project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, were compiled from a variety of statistical measurements that included: obesity, teen birth rate, low birth rate, number of preventable hospital stays, excessive drinking, adult smoking.

Lucas called the meeting a tremendous success.

“I truly believe this is a meaningful moment. The energy level has been excellent and the work we have done today is powerful,” he said.

At the meeting, small working groups or “action circles” were created to focus on health behaviors, health education, access and quality health care, physical environment, and social factors in Lawrence County.

The groups discussed problems and potential projects in those areas and will meet monthly to come up with plans to address them. A cast of professionals from different sectors including education, health care, economic development, and county government are among those on the working groups, which are expected to expand as they recruit their friends and colleagues to work on the project.

“We’ll get bigger and bigger,” Lucas said at the meetings close. Lucas said an official kick off of a specific action plan could come some time in January 2012.

“There are things we can do. There are things we can change. We have to make this happen,” he added.

“We all have a responsibility in this effort,” said County Commissioner Les Boggs, a registered nurse and respiratory therapist. “We have to step up and do what we can. I’m just thrilled that Dr. Lucas has taken the bull by the horns and said, ‘Lets make a difference in our county,’” he said.

Boggs said he believes the county’s role in the plan is to set an example and get the word out about the effort.

A second organizational summit is planned for sometime before Christmas.

Although the initiative is still in its early organizational stages, it has already received donations totaling more than $3,500. The Lawrence County Commission donated $2,500 and another $1,000 gift was received on Saturday, according to Lucas.

He said the group will need additional funds as it begins to undertake projects and therefore, needs some grant writers to join up too.

Above all, Lucas said, the initiative needs to deliver a clear concise message about the state of wellness and health in the county and what can be done to improve it.

“We have to ratchet up the conversation in the county. We have to ratchet it up,” he said.

Lucas, who was first made aware of the ranking by a close colleague, said he was so shocked by it that he “literally became sick.”

“I would have never dreamed, not in my wildest dreams, that we were 88th,” he said.

Lucas added he was “as guilty as anyone else” before reading the report. “I never thought about health care in Lawrence and what it means to the economic circumstances, to the environment, what this all means and how it is all connected. We have a tendency to think this is all not interconnected … but it all connects,” he said.

It all weighed so heavily on Lucas’ mind, that he was spurred to action. “I had this inner voice that said, ‘If you are so worried about this, why don’t you try to do something about this,’” Lucas recounted.

“I stewed over this a long time and I thought, I don’t have to do all this, and in fact I couldn’t do all this by myself because it’s not just my problem. Health matters to all of us. It’s everybody’s problem. It’s your problem,” he said.

“I’m smart enough to know I need to bring everybody together and then stand back and let them do their jobs,” said Lucas.