By YOW Staff

You’ve come a long way baby!  This captures the progress made by Tillamook County’s Year of Wellness (YOW) campaign.  Beginning as an idea of Commissioner Bill Baertlein in 2015, this grass-roots health improvement project was launched in 2016 and grew quickly from there.  YOW was one local leader’s way to address rising chronic disease rates and healthcare spending.  “If we can get people to take a few more steps each day and just eat a little healthier, then we will be doing something positive,” says Bill often. The idea is to put the control of community health into the hands of, well, the community.

By the end of 2016, over 75% of people surveyed had heard of YOW.  More than 1,000 citizens had participated in the on-line health tracker and thousands more are looking at their daily habits in a new light.  YOW also shifted how community partners viewed working together to influence population health.  Healthcare leaders increasingly began to work toward community-wide solutions rather than just focusing on what could be done for a patient in the clinical setting.  Social service agencies, schools, workplace wellness leaders and civic groups were recognizing the broader roles they could play in influencing “upstream” social determinants of health.

As 2017 approached, this positive energy and enthusiasm prompted the YOW Task Force to vote unanimously for its continuation.  Since the beginning, YOW Committee members have volunteered hundreds of hours contributing to YOW’s success.  Subject-area experts, passionate community advocates and everyday citizens have convened monthly to address topics including:  health education, physical activity, nutrition, mental and behavioral health, tobacco prevention and public policy.  These volunteers have helped identify which community resources can be leveraged to improve health (chronic disease prevention classes, outdoor recreation, community events, etc.) and where gaps exist which could be targets for improvement (safer sidewalks, more cooking classes, and increased social supports, to name a few.)

YOW’s progress is a remarkable thing.  The health of Americans has been declining for decades.  Experts tell us over and over which lifestyle changes we need to make to become healthier.  Yet, somehow, health indicators have continued to move in the wrong direction.  The reasons for this are complex but research is increasingly pointing to factors that we might not have previously realized impact our health, such as childhood stress and the conditions in which we live.  “By working together to address these factors, and being ‘upstream-ist’ in our approach,” as Tillamook County Public Health Administrator, Marlene Putman states, “we stand to make greater gains in improving population health.”

Continuing YOW’s efforts and momentum into 2018, faced some challenges. There are simply too many health concerns and too few resources to address them all simultaneously.  Conveniently, YOW was approached by researchers from the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU).  They were intrigued by what we had started and wanted to lend their expertise.  The goal for both OHSU and local leaders was to see if we could create a model for other communities to follow.

With the help of Jessica Linnell, OSU Extension Professor of Practice with the School of Community and Public Health, the YOW Task Force is now working in partnership with OHSU to narrow our focus to a specific health target which can be measured. 

Through a series of workshops held during the Fall of 2017, the YOW Task Force has identified a goal of reducing the incidence of Diabetes in Tillamook County.  We are in the process of developing a strategic plan, as well as methods of evaluating progress in reaching this goal.  According to Commissioner Baertlein, “The great thing about this goal is that so many of the health factors that contribute to Diabetes, also contribute to other important health concerns, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.  This is a win-win in my opinion.”

Watch for the weekly “Year of Wellness” column in the Headlight-Herald to learn how you can help YOW reach this important community health goal.  

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