Hennepin County beat: Get-well programs get boost from feds

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2011 - 11:46 PM

It was enough to make a reporter sit up straight and pay attention. The Hennepin County Board was being asked to approve $5.8 million in federal funds -- from President Obama's health care overhaul, no less -- to employ five people to help county residents (especially minority populations) stop smoking, exercise more and eat better.

That's a no-brainer, right? Who can argue with those goals? And it's money from the feds to help the county add staffers, not cut them.

I'll save you the suspense. Commissioners voted unanimously to take the money. The program, to be run out of the county's Human Services and Public Health Department, will extend through 2016. The state Health Department has received a similar grant, only larger, to attack unhealthy lifestyles in greater Minnesota.

Still, the amount of money and the uncertain nature of the exercise -- What really works? Can you measure results? -- gave some commissioners pause. Not to mention the fact that Hennepin County already has any number of wellness programs designed to encourage people to get up and do rather than sit and stew.

Khatidja Dawood, program manager for public health promotion, said the funding will focus efforts in Minneapolis, Bloomington, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park to reduce heart attacks and strokes and implement preventative health measures. Success would help rein in health care spending, among other benefits.

They're going to do this by going where people live: schools, workplaces, multi-family homes. They'll persuade landlords to make buildings smoke-free, schools to serve balanced meals, corner stores to stock more fruits and veggies (pizza?), offices to make stairways more inviting (maybe light music and brightly-painted walls, she said).

"We'll focus on changing environments," Dawood said.

It takes time to change outcomes, she said, and the first progress review will be in 2014. Let's cross our fingers.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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