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CDC, state officials, locals look to address poor health issues through local initiative

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CDC, state officials, locals look to address poor health issues through local initiative Megan Bennett/DouglasNow.com

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Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Georgia Department of Health spoke at the Rotary Club luncheon on Thursday January 21. Dr. Jean O’Connor, Director of Chronic Disease Prevention Department at the Georgia Department of Public Health, and Dr. Wayne Giles, Director of Chronic Disease Prevention with the CDC, both spoke on health issues Coffee County is facing.

The Coffee County School Board, Coffee Regional Medical Center and other community members have come together to form a collaborative that is working together on a Better Health, Lower Cost initiative in our area. CRMC representative Vicki Lewis explains that the initiative’s goals are to create a “culture of health” by rewarding and normalizing healthy physical activity, nutrition and healthy lifestyles. For this to happen, the community needs to be involved, educated, and have access to the healthcare and nutrition that they need.

Dr. Jean O’Connor discussed the strategy that will be used to combat the health issues in Coffee County, and the first tactic is to face the reality of the problems that exist.

“One of the challenges here is just how sick people really are,” Dr. O’Connor stated.

She revealed that, according to community ranking documents, “Coffee County ranks about 140 out of 159 counties in Georgia for health outcomes.” She also added that Coffee County "[leads] the state, unfortunately, in diabetes and heart disease.” Issues that are being addressed by the Better Health, Lower Cost initiative have led to this crisis, including limited access to healthy foods and lack of education regarding medications and healthy living.

Several local physicians also pointed out during a Q and A session at the end of the luncheon that some patients are noncompliant with directions given to them by their doctors, or can be in denial about their conditions and continue unhealthy habits. These factors are out of the doctors’ control, but providing incentives and educational material for patients could help encourage them to follow their doctor’s orders.

Both Dr. Jean O’Connor and Dr. Wayne Giles applauded the Coffee County School Board and the local medical community for implementing a unique arrangement with the opening of a health clinic on the Coffee Middle School Campus. “I think you’re one of less than five communities in the state that has a school-based health center that’s also going to be open to adults,” Dr. O’Connor stated. It is just one of the many ways that Coffee County is pioneering in healthcare.

Healthier employees means a better bottom line for businesses, healthier kids grow into healthier adults, and a little effort can turn the health crisis around for Coffee County. It will take time to see the results, but Dr. O’Connor, Dr. Giles, and the community members that support the Better Health, Lower Cost initiative have stressed the importance of investing in health and the benefits that the community will see from improved health. Employers who implement health incentives with bonuses for good health screenings, free access to exercise equipment and gyms, and availability of healthy foods at the work site are just a few of the many ways that a “culture of health” can be achieved in Coffee County.

With an on-site health clinic at Coffee Middle School and access to the Telemedicine network at all schools in the Coffee County School System, students may not have to sacrifice learning time to go to doctor’s appointments or for health issues. Vicki Lewis and the members of the Better Health, Lower Cost initiative collaborative hope that many more community and business leaders join the initiative and help make Coffee County a healthier and, in turn, a more successful community.

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