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Rice Hospital in Willmar, Minn., has chance to apply for key grant funding

WILLMAR -- Local hospital officials are moving to take advantage of a major grant by Allina Health and the George Family Foundation to improve community wellness.

Rice Memorial Hospital is among 13 hospitals in Minnesota invited to apply for one of the grants, which are designed to help each community de-velop a continuum of wellness resources that are accessible and sustainable.

Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital, calls it "a significant opportunity I believe we have before us."

The development of a successful program will not only help lead to better community wellness and prevention but also could help manage health care costs, Schramm said.

"It falls in line with what we as a hospital need to be doing with the community."

The $475,000 Health Prevention and Promotion Partnership grant is for three years. The target areas are smoking cessation, obesity and mental health.

Willmar has until Oct. 5 to submit a proposal. A kickoff will take place in December, followed by the launch of activities in January.

Rice Hospital has been working for the past few months to engage local stakeholders such as city officials, Kandiyohi County Public Health and local medical groups. The goal is to coordinate and tie together existing community wellness efforts, with the hospital as the hub.

Local health officials have not made a final decision about what the focus of their grant activity will be, but adult obesity will most likely be the target, said Wendy Ulferts, chief nursing officer at Rice Hospital.

"It's one of the areas thought to impact the health of the most in the community," she said.

"There are lots of ideas around the table," Schramm agreed.

A required element of the grant will be a health screening with adult participants. The purpose is two-fold: to work with a group of individuals on identifying and understanding their health risks and to connect them with local resources. The participants will be reassessed later in the project to measure their progress.

The online assessment tool "was built just for this grant," Ulferts said. Rice and the other hospital grantees will be working with physician and project leaders and researchers with Allina, the George Family Foundation and the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Rice also will be hiring a care navigator and grant ambassador to carry out grant activities locally.

By some estimates, only about 5 percent of the U.S. population does not have some form of identifiable health risk factor. At least 40 percent of deaths in the United States each year are thought to be linked to one or more of four lifestyle-related behaviors: poor nutrition, inadequate physical activity, smoking and exposure to tobacco, and hazardous drinking.

Local efforts already have been addressing these target areas, but the Allina and George Foundation Health Prevention and Promotion Partnership grant project will help enhance overall coordination and allow resources to be leveraged so they're more comprehensive and sustainable, Schramm said.

"The key is collaboration," he said. "We need to figure out how we can work together and make sure everybody knows what each group is doing. Doing what we can to help improve the health of the community is going to be important. We think it makes sense for all the right reasons."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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