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updated: 11/29/2012 11:48 AM

New Lake County health plan focus on community input

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Opportunities to get healthier should become more apparent to Lake County residents as part of a new comprehensive effort.

The vehicle is the most recent 5-year plan for the Lake County Health Department, which varies from previous required efforts in that it focuses on community-based input and is expected to combine a pool of interests for greater impact.

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During the past year and a half, the health department has been working with several local organizations and agencies to develop a plan to assess and improve community health. The result, Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships, was recently reviewed and approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Priorities include a reduction in health disparities by area, access to wellness and prevention programs, a coordinated network of health and human services, and an adequate and diverse public health system workforce.

In the past, most of the planning was done in house by the health department. This time, the effort was community driven with 14 of 15 steering committee members from the outside.

"Every five years, all the health departments need to go through this process," said Leslie Piotrowski, spokeswoman for the health department. "It's just that this particular time, there's more community involvement with partners than in the past."

MAPP is a national organization and is considered the "gold standard" of community health planning, according to Jon Ashworth, a development specialist with the department who coordinated the effort.

"Not only are we on a road that's never been driven on before, but we have some specific strategies to make this meaningful to the community as a whole," he said. "We've never used it before. It was just a much more comprehensive process."

The next stage is to implement the plan, in a "community by community" approach where priorities will be addressed at the local level and the root causes for certain situations will be sought, Ashworth said.

For example, rather than prescribing better nutrition or more physical activity to combat obesity, the thrust will be to determine whether there are barriers to achieve that. A given community, for example, may push for more labeling on foods or try to improve access to parks.

"Each community will own their own priorities," he said.

So will the school districts, which are supposed to have wellness programs in place.

"We're working with the district superintendents of most of the school districts in Lake County and they're becoming more active," Ashford said. "There are a lot of different layers of influence we can facilitate."

In short, county residents can expect more exposure to healthier living opportunities and collaboration among various entities to provide them.

Teams of organizations have been formed to determine what will be done, who will do it and how it will be done.

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