Last Monday, I attended a meeting at the Hutchinson Public Library auditorium. The subject of the meeting was “Community Decision Making for Economic and Health Well-being.” I am not sure how I received an invitation to this meeting, but it sounded like an interesting topic. I am keenly interested in health issues.

When I entered the room, I wondered if I was in the right place. Seated at a table near the door were Sen. Ed Burger, County Administrator Gary Meagher and Steve Dechant, mayor of Hutchinson. I also noticed the city manager, several members of the city staff and the community policing contingent.

The meeting began with an introduction of the primary speakers and joint seminar leaders, Tatiana Lin, M.A., Senior Analyst & Strategy Team Leader with the Kansas Health Institute, and Mary Marrow, J.D. Senior Staff Attorney with the Public Health Law Center. There was a large packet of information provided for each person. As the speaker introduced a topic, reference was made to the handout material.

The first topic dealt with the Health Impact Assessment profile and examples of the profile application. The HIA is a practical tool to inform policymakers, during the decision-making process, of potential positive and negative health effect of proposed laws, programs, policies or regulations.

The process begins by asking: What about health? How will this proposal affect community health and well-being? The assessment process involves the following steps: identify the feasibility of HIA, identify issues for the study, assess health impacts, suggest options or alternatives, communicate results, identify successes and areas for improvement.

An example was presented of a city that decided to recycle wastewater. (That’s wastewater, not sewer water.) One assumes the treatment process makes the water safe and drinkable. In this study, the public was not convinced the water was drinkable. In response, the consumption of sugar-based drinks increased by a wide margin with a substantial impact on public health.

The seminar continued with a panel discussion: What’s Happening in Reno County? The panelists were Kari Mailoux, HEAL; Jackson Swearer, HCI Health Equity; Lisa Gleason, BCBSKS Pathways Project. Facilitator: Tatiana Lin, Kansas Health Institute. Discussion began with a brief account the organization represented.

Mailoux is the chair and logistics coordinator of the HEAL Advisory Council, which administers grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, Kansas Health Foundation, Kansas Department of Health & Human Services. Her work also involves the coordination of teams dealing with vitality, healthy foods, healthy kids, tobacco-free living, work and wellness, and healthcare access. Swearer is the coordinator of the Health Equity program and works with areas of the city which have limited access to health care. One of the biggest challenges is to develop ways to continue the effort after it gets started. Gleason is involved with the Pathways project which is the largest grant program ever funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

After lunch, the seminar continued with the use of an assessment tool and checklists and an opportunity for practical application. I was working with a group dealing with driveway and pavement issues. The city presently requires parking space for two cars to be included in every house plan requiring larger driveways and parking area. The question; what are the health implications of any change of this policy? We struggled to answer the questions which related to the health issues involved in the possibility of parking more cars on the street. This could create safety issues for traffic. It could also cause folks to do more walking.

The seminar ended with a presentation on how to create a health-assessment culture in Reno County. Consideration of this issue was centered on awareness of health issues and the ways they impact almost every decision. The assessment tools and decision-making guidelines were reviewed, and practical application was encouraged.

I found a website for the Kansas Health Institute, khi.org, including their statement of purpose and a list of publications. “KHI’s work often leads to briefs and publications used in our educational offerings for policymakers – arming them with credible analysis on topics such as health reform, community health, insurance coverage and public health. Even more importantly, KHI convenes conversations with policy leaders of diverse political perspectives – educating them through the use of evidence to make informed decisions on issues that affect the health of Kansans.”

The seminar was well organized and professionally presented. The assessment and decision-making guidelines could be useful if used as suggested. Personally, I was unfamiliar with most of the agencies involved. I am curious about the amount of grant money involved and would like more information about the agencies that administer the programs.

I hope, in the future, organizations represented will include religious organizations and their role in promoting physical and spiritual health.

 

Phil Wood, a Baha'i, originally from New England, resided for 12 years in Barbados, four years in China, has lived 30 years in Hutchinson. pwood1937@gmail.com