|Churches look at physical well-being also|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Wednesday, 20 April 2011 13:07|
Strengthening the link between physical and spiritual wellbeing is one of Healthy Baker, Inc.’s newest missions, and it’s already happening at some local churches.
What began as a handful of health-conscious congregants from Sanderson’s Faith Bible Church meeting for a weekly workout and fellowship has grown during the last six months to 15 to 20 people gathering three nights a week.
Healthy Baker, a nonprofit coalition of public and private health care providers and representatives from government, business and the public at large, has made faith-based outreach a priority for the next few years.
Health department officials hope to coordinate education and fitness programs with more congregations, targeting members with expertise or interest in health and wellness.
“Churches are a strong force in this community,” said Kerry Dunlavey, the health department’s top administrator. “We want to go where people naturally meet and get accurate health messages out.”
Faith Bible Church’s fitness group originated as a health department-sponsored diabetes management program. But when the program’s grant funding ran out, the group continued meeting up for workouts with help from former YMCA trainer Michelle Escobar.
“They’re very self-motivated,” she said this week.
Phillip Jefferson joined the group last fall and soon became its most enthusiastic advocate, sparking interest from other churchgoers in his north Sanderson neighborhood.
“It was kind of dying out ... “ he said of the weekly workouts. “I started going around talking to people in church and we grew it to two days a week, then had enough to do it three days a week. The participation has just been great ... They’re real motivated now after seeing some results.”
Everyone in the group, which has roughly the same number of men as women, has shed pounds at monthly weigh-ins. Participants range in age from 13 to 51 years old.
The workouts include cardio routines and strength exercises on Monday evenings, walking and jogging a very visible, 3-mile route on Saturday mornings and a DVD workout program known as “Insanity” on Thursday evenings, the most popular session.
The keys to growing and sustaining a faith-based wellness program, according to Mr. Jefferson, are communication and garnering support from church leaders.
“The communication has to be good to keep it up — bringing it up at church or during coffee table conversations,” said the 46-year-old corrections officer. “For us, the atmosphere is good and everyone knows each other, so we have fun with it and challenge each other.”
The son of Faith Bible’s pastor, Videl Williams, has joined the workouts, which doesn’t hurt either. “That’s definitely a plus,” said Mr. Jefferson.
There’s close to 70 churches in the county, some with wellness programs, “even though they may not call them that,” said Ms. Dunlavey during the April 11 meeting of Healthy Baker, Inc.’s board of directors.
The nonprofit organization released Baker County’s 2010 Health Needs Assessment that afternoon. It was compiled by the nonprofit Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida.
The 84-page assessment report aggregates many health and quality of life statistics, but also concludes with future goals for Healthy Baker and the health department, like raising awareness of
“priority health concerns” via coordination with churches and businesses.
“I’m always amazed that when I talk to people, that they don’t know all the health services we offer or the benefit we can be to their families and lives,” Ms. Dunlavey said late last week. “It’s always about communication, so we wanted to look at the natural lines of communication already here.”
Also in the pipeline are tailored wellness plans for individual businesses. Some may want a diabetes management program, for instance, while others may decide to focus on quitting smoking or improving fitness.
Health department staff conducted surveys with Walmart Distribution Center’s management and employees to begin the process there.
“Over the next year or so, we’ll design programs to take to businesses to fit there individual needs,” Ms. Dunlavey said.
How Baker County residents viewed their health and quality of life shifted substantially between 2008 and 2010, according to survey results in the Health Needs Assessment report.
The assessment process began about three years ago, but was shelved as economic storm clouds started gathering.
Unemployment was on the rise and would nearly double by 2010. People were losing their employer-provided health coverage and in many cases their homes.
“We had a feeling things would change,” Ms. Dunlavey told about 20 Healthy Baker partners at last week’s meeting. “We made a choice to stop (the assessment) and gather more data and information. We thought it wouldn’t be a clear picture of what was going on in the community.”
But delaying completion of the assessment gave Health Planning Council staff more time for additional surveys, which in turn offered snapshots of what residents were thinking at the beginning of the latest recession and at its end.
In 2008, for instance, most respondents cited cancer as the most significant health concern facing Baker County and smoking as the most worrisome health behavior. Two years later the top concern became addiction and the most pressing unhealthy behaviors were underage drinking and drug use.
Access to quality medical care was the most cited feature of healthy communities in both surveys, but 14 percent more people chose the feature in 2010 than in 2008. Meanwhile, access to churches and places of worship, selected by 63 percent of respondents in 2008 as a healthy community characteristic, was selected by 39 percent two years later.
Other shifts were tied more directly to economic realities.
The number of survey takers reporting full-time employment fell and those with part-time employment rose. More people said they had public health insurance like Medicare or Medicaid or no insurance at all, and fewer people said they had employer-sponsored coverage.
When asked about barriers to health care, the most common responses in 2008 — long waits to get appointments or long waits at appointments — transitioned two years later to the inability to afford health care or find providers that accept a person’s insurance.
The earlier surveys were done on paper at the health department, other social service offices, churches and community events like the county fair.
But the surveys last year were conducted in organized focus groups and online at www.surveymonkey.com. The more recent surveys also gave respondents an opportunity to offer comments on health care, education and general quality of life issues.
Many addressed long-standing problems for Baker County like its few pediatric physicians, Fraser
The comments also reinforced more positive attributes of Baker County: a low violent crime rate, active churches, close-knit and supportive communities and a bustling health department with a variety of services and many ways to pay for them.
“Don’t take this as doom and gloom. There’s a lot of good things in this report,” said Dawn Emerick, director of the Health Planning Council.
She noted steps taken by Healthy Baker and the health department like nutrition education in schools and initiatives tackling infant mortality and teen pregnancy.
Ms. Dunlavey pointed to the county’s diabetes rate, which fell from the worst in the state in 1999 to the seventh worst today.
“It takes a lot of time and work to change those statistics,” she said. “And these are efforts that you must continue on. They have to be long lasting.”
|Last Updated on Friday, 22 April 2011 15:12|