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Health is Foundation for Productive Communities

Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, believes in three “buckets of prevention” in health care.

Those buckets—traditional clinical prevention, innovative clinical prevention and community-wide prevention—can go a long way in improving the health of our nation, Dr. Frieden told attendees at the SOAR Innovation Summit in Pikeville June 6.

The summit is part of a broader effort started by Congressman Hal Rogers and former Gov. Steve Beshear to bring opportunity to Appalachia. SOAR—Shaping Our Appalachian Region—focuses on the many pieces required to build an economically strong region. Dr. Frieden pointed out that good health of residents is integral for communities to be economically viable. And, he said, it’s important that communities strive for innovation in health care as they do with other parts of the economy.

“Health is not just about health,” he said. “It’s about society.”

Walter May, president/CEO of Pikeville Medical Center, said the need is great in the SOAR region, which includes 54 counties. “We all know that time is critical in taking care of people,” he said. “Where you live should not determine if you live.”

That’s where innovation comes in. David Pearson, president of Laurel Grocery Company in London, shared his company’s experiences with an onsite clinic’s efforts to target preventive care for employees. The company opened the clinic for two reasons: “We really do care about our employees,” Pearson said. The other reason, he said, was that medical expenses continued to climb dramatically. The average cost of coverage, he said, was around $90 per week per employee in 2016; that doubled by 2013.

The clinic provides free physicals for employees and treatment for common ailments. Employees could earn monetary credits in their health savings accounts; quitting tobacco, for instance, would earn them a $250 credit to the HSA account. Since the clinic has been onsite, 19 people have quit tobacco.

Scott Lockard, public health director of the Clark County Health Department and president of the Kentucky Health Departments Association, said innovation such as that is important. Kentucky is 44th in the nation in health status.

One big step the state could take, he said, is cutting the number of smokers and secondhand smoke.

“Cigarettes are killing us. Secondhand smoke is killing us,” he said. “When are we going to stand up and say, ‘enough is enough’?”

Lockard said a clean indoor air law “would save more lives than what we do, day in and day out, on the clinical side.”

Dr. Frieden said when communities and states have adopted smokefree laws, it “hasn’t hurt businesses and it’s saved a lot of lives.”

He said smoking rates are three times higher in some states than in others. Smoking, he said, is the leading preventable cause of death.

Dr. Frieden also touched on another major health issue in Kentucky, particularly in the Appalachian region. He said physical activity throughout life, particularly in schools and day cares, is important. It serves more than just weight loss—kids do better in school when they participate in physical education, and adults do better when they are physically active.

“Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” he said.

Speakers during the rural health session stressed the importance of health and its role in a community’s success.

“Health is the foundation,” Lockard said. “If we want a good workforce, they have to be healthy. If we want students to learn, they have to be healthy.”

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