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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Northwest Ohio leaders gather to brainstorm community health ideas

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - About 45 community leaders from throughout northwest Ohio Wednesday brainstormed ways to improve community health, the first step in involving businesses, educators, and others beyond county health departments.

The workshop at Bowling Green State University coincided with the release last month of the "2010 County Health Rankings" study. Lucas County was one of the unhealthiest counties statewide, while Wood County was one of the healthiest in the study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Officials from the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, hospitals, universities, health departments, and other groups participated in the workshop, organized by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

Funding for public health, community involvement, and attention from legislators are some deficiencies local improvement efforts have to overcome, said Lisa Frazier, research specialist at the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

"Let's acknowledge the frustrations we have," Ms. Frazier told the group gathered at Bowen Thompson Student Union. "Let's not glaze over them."

She added: "Let's not glaze over them, but let's not become obsessed, either."

Ms. Frazier said the Health Policy Institute of Ohio and the Ohio Department of Health will further analyze study findings by better comparing counties based on demographics. Counties will be grouped into several demographic categories - such as urban for Lucas County - and initial results should be ready by summer, Ms. Frazier said.

Kathy Silvestri, director of health planning for the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio, said she was heartened to hear a more fair comparison study will be performed. She attended Wednesday's workshop to find out more about how the study's data was collected, she said.

The study released last month ranked Lucas County as a lowly No. 71 among Ohio's 88 counties when it came to the overall health of its residents. High poverty rates, smoking, and poor air quality were among some factors that affected Lucas County's ranking in the study, and it received the lowest mark in northwest Ohio when it came to overall health.

Wood County, meanwhile, ranked No. 9 statewide, while Fulton County was No. 21 and Ottawa County No. 18. Putnam County had the highest ranking in northwest Ohio at No. 7.

Sandusky County ranked No. 46 in the study. But David Pollick, the county's health commissioner, said some of the study's information is outdated. Local health assessments of Sandusky County adults, teens, and children expected to be released in June should show improvements in overall health, Mr. Pollick said. There has been a decline, for example, in teen smoking and drinking, he said.

"It will be interesting to compare our assessment," Mr. Pollick said. Hopefully we will show some progress."

Northwest Ohio's health departments already have made strides when it comes to working together and with other partners in issues, including water quality and rabies prevention, said Brad Espen, environmental health director for the Wood County Health Department.

Several health departments, for example, are working with BGSU, the University of Toledo, Heidelberg University in Tiffin, TMACOG, and others to address water quality, Mr. Espen said. They have collaborated on finding funding for testing equipment and other needs, he said.

"It's just been very beneficial to us," Mr. Espen said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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