Chatham rises to ‘Challenge’ to address public health concerns; wins $25,000 prize

Posted 3/8/19

When the Aetna Foundation launched its Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, Chatham County was one of 50 cities and counties across the United States to accept it and rise up to meet …

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Chatham rises to ‘Challenge’ to address public health concerns; wins $25,000 prize

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When the Aetna Foundation launched its Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, Chatham County was one of 50 cities and counties across the United States to accept it and rise up to meet it.

Two years after the foundation created the nationwide initiative aimed at addressing public health concerns, Chatham County emerged as one of 10 finalists.

While Chatham didn’t snag the Challenge’s top honors (that spot, along with the top cash prize of $500,000, went to another North Carolina county, Mecklenburg) the Chatham County Public Health Department nevertheless received a check for $25,000 to continue its mission of integrating public health policy in planning matters to comprehensively address public health issues, primarily obesity, which had been identified in a 2018 Community Assessment as the county’s top public health concern.

The Chatham County Health Department, partnering with the Chatham Health Alliance, a volunteer group comprised of local professionals and residents whose focus is improving public health, has embedded health into the county’s 25-year Comprehensive Plan, outlining a new approach to track community health trends, and promote collaboration and resource-sharing among county offices to achieve a healthier community for the county’s 70,928 residents.

For the challenge, participants first identified a problem in their community. In Chatham, the targeted problem: adults over the age of 18 who were consuming fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and reporting low levels of physical activity.

Next, local leaders narrowed a Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge approach to address the problem, with the county’s health department and Chatham Health Alliance working on a multilevel initiative to target obesity. These two entities, along with numerous stakeholders, created a local, unique Comprehensive Plan for Chatham County and includes a “health in all policies” approach to encourage health behaviors in numerous aspects of life in Chatham County.

Jeff Kiser, vice president of sales and marketing for Aetna, was on hand last Friday to present a check for $25,000 to Chatham County health and planning officials for their work in meeting the local health challenge.

“This is for all the great work you’ve done with this project,” Kiser said.

Chatham County Public Health Director Layton Long said the $25,000 will be earmarked to continue work started through the Challenge initiative.

The Challenge was launched by Aetna in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties, engaging 50 small-to-mid-sized cities and counties nationwide to make measurable, scalable improvements to public health issues in their local communities.

Since its inception, the Challenge has awarded a total of $1.5 million in grants and prizes to the 50 participating programs to support their efforts to tackle the most pressing health issues.

In addition to two grand prize winners (Bridgeport, Connecticut, received the second top prize), eight programs, including Chatham County’s, were designated as runners-up in recognition of their achievements, each receiving prizes ranging from $25,000 – $50,000 to help continue their work.

“In order to solve our most pressing public health issues, we have to start at the local level, acknowledging that the solutions to our problems are as diverse as the communities facing them,” said Karen S. Lynch, Executive Vice President, CVS Health and President, Aetna. “These communities are able to get to the heart of their unique challenges and create impactful programs that we hope can be replicated in other communities nationwide.”

“While every community faces unique health issues, we know a lot can be accomplished when cities and counties join forces,” said APHA executive director Georges C. Benjamin. “It is our hope that these two programs, along with the rest of the Challenge participants, will inspire others and serve as models of success and progress for communities around the country who face similar health issues.”

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