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Local and regional initiatives look to improve Hubbard County's health

Chris Broeker is Hubbard County's public health director. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)

Improving the county's health has not only absorbed public health officials, but also an out-of-state university conducting a county-by-county health ranking.

Hubbard County public health officials are bracing for a third wave of H1N1 flu and hoping they are wrong about it hitting.

"Our flu activity has been pretty quiet but we are still vaccinating," said public health director Chris Broeker at last week's Hub-bard County board meeting.

Children and infants ages 6 months to 9 years are getting second rounds of vaccinations for H1N1.

Broeker said surprisingly, there's been almost no regular flu.

People have heeded health warnings, she said. They're staying out of crowds, they're getting vaccinated in large numbers.

And public health officials are still administering those flu shots because February typically sees a spike in flu activity, Broeker said.

"We hope we don't get a third wave."

To date, public health officials have administered 2,500 to 3,000 doses of H1N1.

"That's a lot compared to what we normally do," Broeker reported to the board.

Broeker also reported on two other health initiatives taking place in the region.

One is the county-by-county health ranking that will be released later this month, comparing each of Minnesota's 87 counties to the others.

It's based on several fac-tors including access to health care, health behaviors, social and economic factors and the physical environment.

Broeker, when quizzed by county commissioners, said she couldn't predict where Hubbard County will fall in the mix. It's a poor county with an aging population, she said. Those could be big factors in its ranking.

By the year 2025, Hub-bard County will see 75 percent of its population falling into the 65-85 year age group.

The county comparisons will be publicized to implement a "call to action" for communities and regions to develop programs and policies to address factors that influence their population's health.

The study is being con-ducted by the University of Wisconsin and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But another initiative taking place among a four-county area including Hubbard County is called SHIP, for Statewide Health Improvement Program.

SHIP, with help from a $500,000 grant, will launch programs and initiatives to combat obesity and tobacco use, some of the most costly issues burden-ing the health care system.

Broeker said the pro-gram will include:

• Working with schools to introduce healthier foods and collaboration with the state health index.

• A healthy food systems distribution push, to make fresh produce and garden veggies available to low-income persons. There has been talk of starting a community garden in Park Rapids, but the project may not get off the ground this year due to differences within the planning committee.

• A healthy living initiative that would get sedentary persons out hiking and biking, using non-motorized transportation.

• Fine-tuning health care referral systems so people who want to avail themselves of smoking cessation counseling or weight loss programs can get the help they seek out.

One prong of this pro-gram is a diabetes prevention program, since Type II diabetes can be caused by obesity and unhealthy life-styles.

• Finally, Blue Cross Blue Shield is getting involved to help implement workplace wellness pro-grams. SHIP envisions educating employers on how they can enhance employees' health and wellness.

It's all about systemic changes, Broeker said, changing policies and the environment to reach a healthier population in a manner that is sustainable over time.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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