The Ottumwa Courier


May 11, 2012

Still more Blue Zones work to do

Ottumwa shows weakness in policy-making and community engagement

OTTUMWA — There’s room for improvement in the next several months before the second round of Blue Zones finalists are announced.

Wapello County Public Health Clinical Director Lynelle Diers said a Healthways representative came to Ottumwa this week to discuss the community’s application and site visit to be designated as a Blue Zones-certified community.

The Blue Zones Project is the cornerstone of Gov. Terry Branstad’s Healthiest State Initiative, with the goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.

Healthways teamed up with Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield for the initiative.

According to Healthways, there was a very small margin between the 11 communities chosen for site visits, Diers said, and Blue Zones officials were impressed with all 11.

“He said we still need to work on community engagement and get that increased,” Diers said, such as the requirement that workplaces have at least 25 percent of their employees committed and engaged in the process.

“They’re looking to see which communities are really ready to go forward right now,” Diers said.

Healthways also wanted to see more policy engagement, “which is a huge piece in order to be a certified Blue Zones community,” Diers said.

“They want us to make stronger rules and regulations policy changes, like no smoking in multi-housing units, which is part of our community transformation grant,” Diers said.

Wapello County Public Health received the $88,000 grant with five other counties in southeast Iowa from the Iowa Department of Public Health through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Funds from the grant will also be used to install bike racks on Ottumwa Transit buses, Diers said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health worked with 26 different counties in the state, including seven in southeast Iowa. The five southeast Iowa counties were chosen for the grant “because of our high stroke and heart attack rates,” Diers said.

But Ottumwa displayed many strong qualities, though, Diers said, including the schools and the media.

“He would like to see us work more with the media to get the message out and a campaign going,” Diers said. “But he was delighted to see public health involved so heavily with the schools, because there are some areas where they’re not involved.”

And with statistical information gathered from each of the 11 communities chosen for site visits, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index will re-survey those communities, and the results will be used as a baseline so communities can look back on them two years later to see where changes have been made and where work still needs to be done.

The six communities not selected as demonstration sites last Friday will be automatically thrown into the second round, Diers said. Ottumwa will not have to re-apply, but it can update its application.

“After the application process, they’ll select 12 communities for site visits again in October and November,” Diers said. “Out of those 12, in January they’ll select six more communities as demonstration sites. And that will be it.”

Diers also said one person from Ottumwa will be able to come up to the Blue Zones Institute to review materials provided in each community’s tool kit along with the other communities originally chosen for site visits.

“They’re still pushing us forward,” Diers said. “We’ll start using those tools and become a Blue Zone-certified community. And we’ll start getting information to workplaces, schools and restaurants so they’re aware of what it’s going to take.”

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