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Eagle editorial: Path to improved community health

  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Praise is due Sedgwick County for continuing to lead the way on wellness with its new Community Health Improvement Plan. The feat will be turning the goals into a healthier population amid budget cutting – and some flak even from the County Commission bench.

Sedgwick County’s overall health can use some serious work, judging from the county’s 72nd-place ranking out of the 102 Kansas counties included in the most recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Though Wichita’s status as a health care mecca put the county in a strong 12th place for clinical care, Sedgwick County’s comparatively high rates of childhood poverty, unemployment, single-parent households and violent crime pulled down its ranking to 96th for social and economic factors. The county also compares unfavorably across a range on health factors including adult smoking and obesity rates, teen-birth and low-birthweight rates, and sexually transmitted infections.

Crafted by the Sedgwick County Health Department in partnership with the Visioneering Health Alliance, the Community Health Improvement Plan outlined last week for county commissioners targets priorities identified in a review of data and available assets a few years ago – access, obesity and diabetes, oral health and mental health – and aims to reduce health disparities in each area. Among the worthy and measurable goals:

• Decrease the number of adults who lack a personal doctor or health care provider (currently 19 percent), including through community health clinics and the donated care of the nonprofit Project Access.

• Reduce the number of adults who are obese (30 percent now) or diabetic, including by partnering with the city of Wichita in increasing use of bicycles and bike paths.

• Decrease the number of adults reporting poor mental health (1 in 10 now), in part by increasing use of services at safety-net clinics and increasing the county’s “mental health first-aid training.”

• Decrease the number of adults who did not visit a dental provider in the past year (currently 25 percent), and reduce the number of children with tooth decay. Toward the latter goal, the county and USD 259 are collaborating to increase dental-sealant treatments at schools, hoping to reach all Title I schools this academic year and eventually all schools in USD 259 and countywide.

Any such plan is only as effective as its funding and partnerships. And even then, it will be limited by individuals’ personal choices, as County Commissioner Richard Ranzau noted in a harsh critique in which he called the idea of community health a misnomer and predicted the plan will fail.

But “public health is one of our core responsibilities,” said Commissioner Tim Norton. Commissioner Dave Unruh added: “Where we can see an issue and educate and help change the standards of the community, I think it’s a good thing.”

Good for the county for setting out a clear path to improve community health. The next move is the community’s.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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