Last Tuesday, the Altoona Mirror ran a story on its front page by Bill Kibler announcing “County Health Survey coming.” The headline itself was prominent and even had a bit of an ominous feel to it. Health, it seems, has developed connotations of more than one kind.
The Healthy Blair County Coalition, headed by Coleen Heim, was created to fulfill a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. This project began in 2007 with the first Community Health Needs Assessment. In 2012, all non-profit hospitals were not only mandated to conduct a similar assessment but also to develop an intervention plan to meet those community health needs.
They had a big job ahead of them. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which does health rankings of every county in the country, ranked Blair County as the 63rd healthiest county in Pennsylvania. In a state with 67 counties, we had little to brag about.
The survey results spit-out the details. We had considerable problems with alcohol and drug use, obesity, poverty, mental health issues, smoking and even bad teeth. Otherwise, as the old joke goes, we were nearly perfect.
Coleen Heim didn’t despair. Through her efforts, which included assembling committees, task forces, and focus groups, meaningful discussions took place that ultimately led to initiatives that systematically addressed each of the health-related challenges. One of those committees – Workplace Wellness – was started by the Chamber at Heim’s urging and continues to direct attention to the importance of employers encouraging their employees to pursue healthy lifestyles.
From 63rd, Blair County is now ranked 39th, which Heim admitted might be slightly misleading.
“There are a number of factors that change some of the indicators,” she noted. “But the reality is that we’re doing better in most categories and it’s great that so many people are spreading the message and so many others are getting it.”
There are still some outliers. I passed a man in the hallway at the Blair Regional YMCA a few days ago who was wearing a t-shirt that on one side said, “I’m into fitness” and on the other side said, “Fit’ness whole burrito in my mouth.”
The struggle continues. Later this week, surveys will be mailed to 3,000 random households in the county. In addition, surveys will be emailed to key leaders, service providers and associations. Anyone wanting to complete the survey can do so on the HBCC Website.