South Florida Hospital News
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November 2008 - Volume 5 - Issue 5


Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade Marks Five Years of Progress

In the fall of 2003, leaders in the Miami-Dade County Health Department took action to address the rising rates of chronic disease in their community.

Joining forces with other concerned groups, they created the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade, a grassroots effort to raise health standards and improve health practices countywide.

Today, the consortium is a vital partnership of 50 organizations and 150 individuals. Its members share one mission – "to be a major catalyst for a healthy Miami-Dade" – and one vision – "healthy environment, healthy lifestyles, healthy community." They also follow a common set of goals and guidelines, which are modeled after those of Healthy People 2010, a national blueprint for wellness and longevity. These goals center on promoting well-being, and preventing illness, disability, and premature death, among all segments of the population.

"We looked at our community, and decided that if we could instill the importance of four fundamentals—good nutrition, regular exercise, abstinence from tobacco, and the need to reduce stress—we could take a giant step forward in preventing ‘preventable’ chronic disease," says Ann-Karen Weller, RN, BSN, ICCE, director of the Office of Community Health and Planning at the Miami-Dade County Health Department. Weller is also chair of the consortium’s executive board.

Suzanne Johnson, R.N., Office of Community Health and Planning, Miami-Dade County Health Department, takes the blood pressure of a community resident at one of the many screenings offered through the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade.

Since its start, the consortium has focused on three key objectives: educating the public on the cost-effective benefits of healthy lifestyles, supporting state and local policy that encourages healthy lifestyles, and collaborating with others to improve community health. To carry out these objectives, the consortium has established eight committees:

Children’s issues works with schools to promote the activities of the Healthy School Initiative, such as the "Step Up Florida" campaign to fight obesity. It advocates, as well, for health policies targeted to students.

Elder issues provides screenings, health fairs, and exercise classes to keep seniors safe, fit, and active. Members also serve as the planning body for the Mayor’s Initiative on Aging.

Executive oversees the consortium’s activities. Members include all committee chairs, and representatives from the Miami-Dade County Health Department and the Health Council of South Florida.

Health and built environment looks at the environment’s impact on community health. It advises on zoning, codes, design principles, policies, and other issues, and makes recommendations, such as building bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways to encourage exercise.

Health promotion and disease prevention helps citizens combat asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic conditions through education on nutrition, fitness, tobacco use, and stress reduction.

Marketing/membership develops and distributes advertising, press materials, and other vehicles to increase visibility of the consortium, and to publicize its programs and events.

Oral health informs the community of the role oral health plays in the overall health of the body. It also helps families and individuals who have little or no dental insurance avail quality dental services, such as fluoride treatments through the "Give Kids a Smile" program.

Worksite wellness stresses the importance of preventive care to a healthy workforce, and teams with partners in the community to bring wellness programs to employees.

Each committee has a strategic plan and goals, and all members volunteer their time and expertise, says Weller.

Laying the foundation for the consortium’s structure and operations has taken close to five years, but is now complete. "Our first order of business was to organize the committees, get people working together, and make sure there wasn’t duplication of effort," says Weller. "Given the fact that we were dealing with large, widespread groups, this was a tremendous task."

The consortium’s next big undertaking is to gather baseline data on its activities and develop measurable outcomes. This has already begun, in part, through research conducted by the Health Council of South Florida. In June 2007, the council, in conjunction with The Health Foundation of South Florida, issued a "report card" on the overall health of Miami-Dade, which included the consortium’s endeavors. Twenty indicators, ranging from the use of social services to access to insurance coverage, were evaluated, graded, tracked as a trend (stabilizing or worsening), and benchmarked against national performance.

"Most of the grades were passing," Weller points out, "but we still have a way to go. We hope to see higher marks next time, and with our own indicators in place, we can tell where the consortium caused positive change."

The consortium’s future will, to a large degree, hinge on funding, says Weller. State dollars have been cut 70 percent this year, and while grants and resources from the county health department have provided some relief, the consortium is still facing a severe budget crunch.

"It’s frustrating," says Weller. "We’re starting to make a difference, but there’s so much more we’d like to do." With additional funding, she notes, they could offer more classes and programs, generate more publicity, and hire a dedicated, full-time staff.

Nonetheless, Weller is proud of the consortium’s progress. "The number of phone calls and website visits is increasing," she says. "We’re motivating people to think about healthy lifestyles, and in a growing number of cases, to change behaviors."

Lillian Rivera, RN, MSN, PhD, administrator of the Miami-Dade County Health Department, agrees that the consortium has been an effective catalyst in the community. "Our partnerships have flourished," she says. "The commitment and collaboration of our members has made the consortium a success. We cannot thank the members enough for their work and efforts--together, they are helping to make Miami-Dade County a healthier place."

For more information on the Consortium, or to become actively involved, call (305) 278-0442.
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