A shipshape Douglas County?Looking for a way to get shipshape in 2012? Programs in Douglas County may be able to help you shed those pounds, kick that habit and get on the path to a healthier new you. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) distributed $11.3 million in Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grants among 18 Minnesota communities.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Looking for a way to get shipshape in 2012? Programs in Douglas County may be able to help you shed those pounds, kick that habit and get on the path to a healthier new you.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) distributed $11.3 million in Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grants among 18 Minnesota communities.
SHIP grants are part of a nationwide effort to reduce chronic disease by focusing on tobacco use and healthy living practices.
Douglas, Grant, Stevens, Pope and Traverse counties will share the $399,155 grant. A regional project will be based on eight strategies developed by West Central Wellness SHIP, said Health Educator Crystal Hoepner.
“[SHIP] is all really looking at reducing the human financial cost of chronic disease related to insufficient physical activity, poor nutrition and tobacco use,” Hoepner said.
Hoepner coordinates efforts in the five counties through three public health agencies. Douglas and Pope have separate public health agencies. Grant, Stevens and Traverse counties are covered by one public health entity.
“The dollars are divided up by the strategies, not specifically by county,” Hoepner explained. “Some of the strategies are new because of the grant and some are enhancing the work started in the previous two years of SHIP.”
A $770,000 SHIP grant was awarded to the five counties, operating as the Mid-State Community Health Board, in January 2010.
The eight strategies fit under three umbrella sectors: schools, workplace and general community. The strategies are: Farm to School, increased access to healthy snacks and beverages, increased opportunities for physical activity throughout the school day, tobacco-free grounds, Farm to Fork, opportunities for walking and biking as transportation, voluntary smoke-free housing policies and comprehensive worksite wellness.
The 2012 SHIP grant will be spent over an 18-month period ending on June 30, 2013.
Because of the time frame, schools will be the first to profit from the grant. The next strategies addressed will be those affected by the growing season, Hoepner said. Active living items will be tackled in February or March.
The Farm to School program will benefit from the grant. It emphasizes the importance of schools buying from local farmers. Hoepner said school gardens and orchards are also part of this initiative.
“We want to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Outside of the school lunch program, healthy snacks can be made more accessible by bringing them into school stores, using healthy food as rewards, and using nutritious food in fundraising and celebrations, according to Hoepner.
Active recess and working activity into classes outside of physical education class helps bring opportunities for physical activity throughout the school day, she added.
Hoepner said two post-secondary schools in the five counties have plans for tobacco-free grounds. Alexandria Technical and Community College and the University of Minnesota Morris will be working with West Central Wellness SHIP to create smoke-free campuses. The SHIP grant will help expand the effort in other schools.
Communities will get a boost from the grant with the Farm to Fork program. The goal is to increase access to the foods provided by existing partnerships in the five counties and to promote new community connections. Community gardens and farmers’ markets are examples of area residents’ partnerships.
“Farm to Fork gets locally grown foods on the table,” Hoepner said.
Walking and biking is a more attractive mode of transportation in the warmer weather months. The YMCA walking and biking maps show safe routes in the Alexandria area. These maps were part of the 2010 SHIP grant. This part of the plan, Hoepner said, is included in Douglas County Active Living.
Hoepner said West Central Wellness SHIP is working with the Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices in the five counties to promote voluntary smoke-free policies for multi-unit housing. Hoepner explained that while the other strategies are taken to the next level because of this grant, the smoke-free housing strategy is made possible because of it. “It’s completely new,” she said.
The smoke-free initiative extends into the worksite wellness strategy. Under the current grant, Hoepner said three sites will be targeted to be made tobacco-free grounds. Those sites have yet to be determined. With the last grant, five worksites were targeted.
“As of last fall, more than 10 healthcare facilities and worksites had 100 percent tobacco-free grounds because of work done with the SHIP grant,” Hoepner said.
The smoke-free pursuit has followed, and was influenced by Douglas County eliminating tobacco use in county buildings and grounds. Douglas County Hospital and Knute Nelson facilities helped pave the way.
“We are working with workplaces that are interested in increasing their wellness programs and increase physical activity,” Hoepner said of the comprehensive worksite wellness strategy.
The deadline to apply for the grant was November 4, 2011. West Central Wellness SHIP was notified of its award on December 9. “It is a quick turn around time for a grant,” Hoepner said. “Work was set to start January 1.”
West Central Wellness SHIP had applied for more money than the amount granted. It is now working with MDH to revise the budget and work plan to match the funds provided.
Grants are given to public health, but Hoepner said that can be misleading.
“The message we try to portray is it’s completely a community focus; it’s not just public health,” Hoepner said.
To learn more about the SHIP grants and how they are used in your community, visit www.westcentralwellness.org.