Feature Article - March 2010
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Steps Toward Wellness

Communities & Facilities Take Action to Improve Health

By Dawn Klingensmith

All but the smallest communities are home to various organizations whose goal is to promote wellness. The local hospital may offer free blood pressure readings and nutrition classes. Area employers host health fairs for workers. Parks and recreation departments offer fitness classes and afterschool programs centered on nutrition.

That was the scenario in Fulton County, N.Y., before Mayor Timothy Hughes of Gloversville asked a local physical therapy center to spearhead a communitywide fitness initiative. "The challenge is to round up and bring together" the various program providers and work collaboratively to reach more people, said Matthew Goodemote, owner of Community Physical Therapy & Wellness. On board so far for the Get Fit Fulton County initiative are the local YMCA, a fitness center, a hospital, grocers and restaurants.

The county's budget constraints are such that the parks and recreation department can't even come close to offering comprehensive wellness programs on its own. "Basically, all the department can afford to do right now is keep the grass mowed," Goodemote said.

But there's a silver lining. Not just in Fulton County but all across the United States, recessionary budget cuts coupled with rising concerns about obesity rates and chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease are ushering in a spirit of cooperation among community organizations whose shared mission is health promotion. Public health issues are being jointly addressed by parks and recreation departments and organizations in the public and private sectors. Such partnerships enable each entity to broaden its reach while leveraging shared resources, including funding, personnel, equipment, facilities and publicity.

And tough economic circumstances have given rise to creative solutions, as organizations set out to tackle growing public health problems on shoestring budgets, resulting in programs that are effective yet inexpensive. A handful of these exemplary programs are featured in this article.

But first, let's make a case for a cooperative model of wellness promotion.

Strength in Numbers

The Columbus (Ind.) Parks and Recreation Department has a longstanding partnership with Columbus Regional Hospital to provide personal training and a host of fitness classes, including aerobics, yoga, Pilates, strength training, fall prevention for seniors and aqua fitness. "The partnership began after we realized we were offering some of the same services," so logistics were put in place to offer them synergistically instead of redundantly, said Katia Hatter, marketing and public relations coordinator, Columbus Parks and Rec.

The hospital provides certified fitness instructors, while the recreation department provides facilities and administrative support. Other costs are shared.

Building on the success of that partnership, the department is always looking to form new synergistic alliances.

"We've been proactive in looking at our programs and asking, 'Are there other agencies doing this and doing it well?' Rather than reinventing the wheel, we try to work with them and bring them under our umbrella," in part by listing complementary programs in the department's brochure, Hatter said.

"In some communities, you may have parks and rec doing exercise programs and the hospital doing exercise programs, and they're competing with each other," Hatter continued. "There's no point in competing, especially if one entity does something better."