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Michael Kerstetter of Willmar lifts weights Friday during a workout at the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA in Willmar. Rice Memorial Hospital this month received a three-year, $475,000 grant from the George Family Foundation for the Healthy Communities Partnership, to help community hospitals develop capacity in preventing chronic disease. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, Minn., launches three-year community wellness initiative

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WILLMAR — Rice Memorial Hospital will soon launch a three-year effort to address obesity among adults and strengthen the hospital’s role in community health.

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The hospital this month received a three-year, $475,000 grant from the George Family Foundation for the Healthy Communities Partnership, a project in 13 cities in Minnesota and western Wisconsin to help community hospitals develop capacity in preventing chronic disease. Co-sponsors are Allina Health and the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

“This is a good opportunity for us to do some positive things and really make an impact in the community,” said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital.

The official kickoff for the grant was Dec. 14.

Hospitals have traditionally focused on treating acute illness and injury.

 The Healthy Communities Partnership invites them to become involved farther upstream, in prevention and wellness efforts that address lifestyle issues such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition, alcohol use and tobacco use. The initiative also provides new opportunities for hospitals to become more involved at the community level as a wellness leader.

During the first few months of 2013, Rice Hospital will begin screening adult participants for obesity and ask them to complete an online health risk assessment.

The screenings will lead to interventions that connect these individuals to existing local resources that address obesity.

“This is not intended to duplicate other initiatives and other activities going on in and around the community,” Schramm said. “It’s meant to be the glue that binds things together.”

Wendy Ulferts, chief nursing officer at Rice, said the hospital is looking for a diverse cross-section of participants.

Local support for the effort will be important in helping define the hospital’s most effective role in community wellness, she said.

A stakeholder group made up of local government, clinic, public health and wellness leaders has been meeting for the past few months to lay the groundwork, she said. “There has been very good interaction.”

With the grant now officially in place, one of the next steps will be to hire staff — a wellness coordinator who will oversee the program and at least one wellness care guide who will work with participants to connect them the resources they need.

“We’re looking to hire staff before the end of the year,” Ulferts said.

One of the goals will be to leverage local resources to help keep the initiative going once the three-year grant period runs out, Schramm said.

“We’re going to try and make as best use we can of these dollars,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure this is sustainable.”

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Anne Polta

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

(320) 235-1150
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