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Community Health Roundtable SJ-R Column 4-23-17

Published Date:

The “Culture of Health” is an increasingly well-accepted concept that states where we live, learn, work and play has more to do with our health than anything else, including our genetic makeup or the availability of health care. For the last two years a small group of local residents, whose names are listed below, has been meeting monthly to explore how we could bring a Culture of Health to the communities and neighborhoods of Sangamon County. We call ourselves the “Community Health Roundtable”.

After considerable reflection, the roundtable established a vision:  Sangamon County citizens and leaders continuously assess and strive to create the behavioral, clinical, physical, and socioeconomic conditions that allow people to achieve optimal health and well-being.  With information from several exceptionally knowledgeable local experts, we translated that vision into our overall goal: To continuously improve the health of children in our community by enhancing the physical environment in which they live.  We are especially interested in addressing housing conditions that can lead to serious childhood health problems like lead poisoning and asthma.

Our Health Roundtable identified our goals based on the local effects of these two health problems.  For example, lead poisoning most commonly occurs because children ingest lead paint dust and particles in older, poorly maintained housing, and it can cause lifelong behavioral and intellectual problems. Sangamon County children aged two years or less have been shown on testing to have a rate of dangerous lead levels (as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control) more than 60percent higher than the rate in children across all of Illinois.  In Springfield School District 186, as many as one in 7 children have been diagnosed with asthma, a condition that causes frequent school absences.  However, when household asthma triggers are controlled, asthma related school absences can be reduced by a third or more. There is more to know, but our strong message is that no child in Sangamon County should live in housing that makes them sick.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RJWF) is the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health; advancing the Culture of Health is its main focus.  As part of this focus, the RWJF has supported the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps project. Every year, they analyze data from every county in the United States, related to the health of local residents, socioeconomic conditions, clinical services, personal health behaviors, and the environment. In Illinois this analysis leads to ranking all of our counties from 1 to 102, according to their health outcomes and health factors. In the most recent report, the extraordinary clinical services in Sangamon County ranked second in the state. But, our overall health outcome ranking, at 67 out of 102, is far lower than any of us would like.

To help the roundtable in its work, we partnered with a County Health Rankings community coach, Attica Scott, from Louisville Kentucky. She has a strong history in community and neighborhood advocacy, has been on the Louisville City Council, and now is a Kentucky State Representative. She has been working with us for ten months, and visited us in Springfield two weeks ago. With her guidance, we have invited several important additional local organizations to join us in our efforts, including both of our hospitals, the Springfield Project, the Inner City Older Neighborhood group, some local residents who have been involved in housing improvement, and the SIU School of Medicine’s Office of Population Science and Policy.  We expect to add many others, and also intend to work with our city and county government agencies and officials as we promote healthy housing for every child in Sangamon County. 

Roundtable members are:

Jim Birge                                            Manager, Sangamon County Farm Bureau

Shelia Boozer                                   Director of Teaching and Learning, Springfield Public Schools District 186

Cindy Denby                                      President, King’s Daughters; CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of West     Central Illinois                        

Chris Hembrough                             President and CEO, Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce

John Kelker                                       President and Chief Professional Officer, United Way of Central Illinois

Polly Poskin                                       President, Harvard Park Neighborhood Association

David Racine                                     Executive Director, Center for State Policy and Leadership, UIS

Don Ross                                           President, Frontiers International

Gail Simpson                                     Former Alderwoman, Springfield City Council

Dave Steward                                   Professor, Internal Medicine, SIU School of Medicine

John Stremsterfer                            President and CEO, Community Foundation of the Land of Lincoln

When you see a Roundtable member, tell them how you think we can make Sangamon County the healthiest place in Illinois and a shining example of a Culture of Health.  Offer to join in our work. We all can contribute to, and we all will benefit from, a Culture of Health.

Dr. David E. Steward is a Professor, Internal Medicine, at SIU School of Medicine.  Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.

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