WILLMAR — Fortified with a new infusion of state funds, the Statewide Health Improvement Program in Kandiyohi and Renville counties is preparing to reboot this year.
Leaders hope to re-energize old partnerships and form new ones that help foster environmental, system and policy changes promoting healthy lifestyles among residents of the two counties.
“I want our expectations to be higher of ourselves, of our children, our communities,” said Kiza Olson, a health educator working with SHIP for Kandiyohi-Renville Public Health.
The Minnesota Department of Health’s SHIP initiative, launched in 2009 with $48 million in state funding, brought community gardens, bike paths and employee wellness programs to towns across the state.
Bolstered by research indicating that individual health tends to be strongly shaped by the surrounding community, SHIP placed an emphasis on creating local change to support healthy behavior.
After two years, however, the Minnesota Legislature slashed funding to $15 million.
In most counties, the program went dormant or was cut back significantly.
Now, with $40 million in new funds for the next two years, counties are gearing up once again to address one of the grassroots contributors to overall health: the community where people live, work and go to school.
During its first two years in Kandiyohi and Renville counties, SHIP resulted in many successful projects, said Ann Stehn, health and human services director for Kandiyohi County.
“We hope that we can continue to support those things and sustain them and drive more improvement,” she said.
Implementation for this new phase of SHIP starts July 1. In the meantime, coordinators have begun working with potential partners to identify areas ripe for action.
“Our job is to partner with our community partners,” said Kristin Anderson-Rosetti, SHIP coordinator for Kandiyohi-Renville County Public Health. “What we want to do is be able to support and enhance community wellness efforts.”
Statewide, SHIP’s focus is on nutrition, physical activity and tobacco prevention and cessation, all contributing factors to chronic disease.
The program also is placing a new emphasis on the health of older adults and on addressing health disparities.
About two dozen people attended a kickoff meeting Wednesday during which Anderson-Rosetti and Olson introduced their work with SHIP and asked for ideas from the audience.
Those who are poor, live in a rural area, lack adequate education and are very young or very old are at greater risk of being unhealthy, Anderson-Rosetti said. Yet many other factors influence health as well and they’re closely interrelated, she said.
Part of her and Olson’s role will be to dig into the data and get a picture of where the needs lie.
“We know that health exists on a continuum and there are a lot of contributing factors,” Anderson-Rosetti said. “That’s a conversation we’re having now with a lot of individuals and different groups and will continue to have.”
Keep the conversation going, Anderson-Rosetti and Olson urged the group.
“Who’s interested? Let’s get together and explore,” Anderson-Rosetti said. “The good news is so many of you are already working on this.”