The Barren River Initiative to Get Healthy Together Coalition has released its Community Health Improvement Plan for 2016-18.

“We’re building on last year’s plan that we had,” said Jason Marshall, chairman of the BRIGHT Coalition board. “This version will build upon the progress we’ve made over the last three years.”

Mental health issues are at the top of the list, Marshall said.

“We’re trying to target the mental health aspect, especially as it relates to drug abuse and addiction,” he said. “There’s an unmet need.”

BRIGHT has four stakeholder groups – health, education, community and worksite. The groups have been working to find ways to outline strategies and encourage partnerships to improve the quality of life in the 10-county Barren River Area Development District.

Cecilia Watkins, associate professor in the department of public health at Western Kentucky University, works with the worksite group. There will be a second annual Worksite Wellness Summit April 27 at the National Corvette Museum.

“Companies come together and implement wellness programs in the workplace or make them better,” she said.

There will be presentations from representatives from the University of Colorado and the University of Iowa as well as Adele Childress, who works with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WKU’s College of Health and Human Services Department of Public Health will do a presentation on a workplace wellness assessment done in 2014 and talk about how to improve workplace wellness programs throughout the state.

“We’ll showcase companies that have done well with their workplace wellness programs and show everyone that it is really possible. They have to create a culture of health – have policies, practices and programs in place that choose healthier options like nutrition programs where people can learn to eat better, physical opportunities like taking the stairs and encouraging wellness to be a part of everyday life in the workplace,” Watkins said. “You have to get everyone on board. The first step is usually the hardest.”

Doris Thomas, vice president and spokeswoman for Commonwealth Health Corp., is a member of the health care group.

“The Affordable Care Act of 2010 required all not-for-profit hospitals to complete a health needs assessment every three years. For many years we were focused on wellness and disease prevention,” she said. “The formation of the BRIGHT Coalition has provided a more structured process going forward to do this. This process helps us to do a broader community health needs assessment with a collaboration among many sectors throughout the BRADD area working together to improve healthy communities for us all.”

One action the health care stakeholder group has chosen as a priority is the provider capacity issue, Thomas said. What the coalition is doing is requesting a recalculation of the health professional shortage area (HPSA) scores, which is a national agency that determines the need of physicians for a given area. The group is looking particularly at primary care and mental health providers for the BRADD area.

“There’s not enough providers,” she said. “We feel like that needs to be updated and one reason is due to a lot of retirement of physicians over the years.” 

The coalition has made great strides, such as making Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars with the farmers market more affordable for individuals to have healthy food through the Community Farmers Market. The Southern Kentucky Community and Technical College went tobacco free as a result of attending the Worksite Wellness Summit, Marshall said.

“That was a big win for our coalition,” he said.

BRIGHT has also worked in collaboration with other coalitions such as the Greenways Commission to obtain grants, Marshall said.

“The grant provided us with funding to sponsor bike rodeos,” he said.

Marshall knows of no other coalitions that have accomplished things on the scale that BRIGHT has.

“We’re making strides to implementing our plans and producing results,” he said. “Kentucky is not known for being progressive, but in this regard we’re way ahead of the curve.”

— Follow features reporter Alyssa Harvey on Twitter at twitter.com/bgdnfeatures or visit bgdailynews.com.

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