By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — Indiana ranked as the 41st-healthiest state in 2012. And within the state, Clark County ranked at 53 out of 92 counties in terms of health.
The rankings, from americashealthrankings.org and countyhealthrankings.org, respectively place the region as one of the more unhealthy places in the country. But a group of community leaders is trying to change that.
Growing Healthy Lives Clark County is a community health initiative being funded by a $75,000 grant from the Center for Disease Control. Ultimately, the goal is to empower the community to make healthy changes in their lives.
HOW IT STARTED
Pioneering Healthier Communities was launched in conjunction with the YMCA, the CDC and local partners in 2004. While the YMCA still serves as a channel of access to the local community, it is not the driver of the initiative.
Clark County’s initiative has paired the YMCA with Clark County’s Health Department, Greater Clark County Schools, Clark Memorial Hospital and area municipalities, along with local business and community leaders. The involvement of a host of organizations is designed to ensure a collaboration that reverses unhealthy lifestyle trends through a variety of means.
Dennis Enix, executive director of the Clark County YMCA and co-chair of the Growing Healthy Lives Clark County committee, said for his organization the goal serves to refocus on all aspects of living a healthy life.
“The Y for many years kind of lost its way and rented time on treadmills and rented time in their swimming pools,” he said. “During that time, the community as a whole was not getting any healthier.”
To ensure they are addressing the community’s needs as a whole, health organizations like the YMCA are looking to tie into plans that are under way that serve the region’s public.
PLANS IN PLACE
“One of the major things was this Big Four pedestrian bridge,” Enix said of local projects. “That was going to be dumping bicylcers and walkers into Jeffersonville without much strategy on what’s going to happen with those bikers and walkers, so we started working with the city ... and started having those conversations with them.”
Subsequently, a priority for the initiative was to make Jeffersonville more walkable and bikeable. Increased internal mobility in the community would also serve as a way to make the area more desirable to businesses and individuals.
“Complete streets and bike lanes — this is the new way communities are looking at economic development, business development [and] infrastructure development,” Enix said. “Research shows walkable and bikeable cities are desirable for business, desirable for residents [and] healthier.”
But more bike lanes and sidewalks will extend beyond just the city of Jeffersonville.
“When you look at a plan for walkability and bikeablility that ... it’s not isolated there in Jeffersonville,” Enix said.
He added that the group is looking at ways to extend routes to the Ohio River Greenway in Clarksville, to River Ridge Commerce Center, all the way up to Charlestown State Park. It also is looking to change some restrictions relating to mobility that are already in place. One policy that was identified points to walkability for schools, as some restrict students being able to walk or ride a bike to school for safety reasons.
“Part of this masterplan is how we make those schools accessible for walk and bike traffic,” Enix said.
Another plan in place that will be part of the initial focus for the committee is workplace wellness.
Larry Lynn, vice-president of Neace Lukens Insurance, said not only does providing health education and opportunities to employees benefit the workers, but it also reduces the company’s health-insurance costs.
The idea of having more than one way to affect a healthy change is something Clark Memorial Hospital is implementing.
Martin Padgett, CEO of Clark Memorial Hospital and co-chair of the committee, said the hospital has revamped its cafeteria’s discounting program — lowering the cost on healthier foods along with providing portion control.
“We’re going at it in two ways: To try to affect them in terms of their pocketbook and encourage them to eat better,” he said.
The cost of a healthier lifestyle is another hurdle the committee is looking to overcome.
Jeffersonville Human Resource Director Kim Calabro, who serves on the committee, said a Community Healthy Living Index assessment is being completed and factors are being identified, like how available healthy food is for individuals.
She said for some residences within the community, specifically with low-income residents, there’s not a grocery store within two to three miles where they can shop to get healthy food.
Along with Calabro, Committee Member Bobby Campbell said he will push to ensure access is available to the healthy-living initiatives being discussed.
“What I wanted to make sure of that we didn’t do is that we weren’t elitist,” he said. “We can build all of the trails in the world ... but if people don’t walk on them it doesn’t make sense. If it only goes to the people who live near it or the people that can drive to it, then it makes no sense. It doesn’t change Indiana’s obesity rate. It doesn’t change the people who really are affected by diabetes.”
Beyond immediate access, Campbell said the biggest thing people need is education and the tools to succeed.
“People just need the tools, they need the resources, they need the education of what they can and cannot do,” he said. “I do believe if we give people the tools and the education to do it, they’ll do it themselves.”
Through the process of education, Calabro said the committee hopes to identify people who will emerge as community leaders for health initiatives.
But it will not be the committee’s goal to implement or devise the policy to change the health outcomes for the community.
“We are not an entity that is to create all of these initiatives, we are to partner with existing ones,” said Committee Member Cindy Kanning.
By serving as consultants, connectors and facilitators, the committee will serve as advocates and help to identify those who can pick up projects from a funding standpoint. But the committee won’t stand in the way of allowing groups from taking on health initiatives on their own.
“We know there are multiple issues around getting this community healthier,” Enix said.