Fayette County group brainstorms for ways to improve residents' health

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comJune 21, 2013 

Creating jobs and making neighborhoods safer are keys to improving the health of people living in Fayette County. That was the message as representatives of 50 groups meet Friday as part of the Community Health Improvement Project.

In addressing those two issues, "we could take a huge step forward," said Angela Carman, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, who helped lead the meeting at Bryan Station High School.

For 31/2 hours, the representatives wrestled with ways to come up with tangible, measurable actions to combat the county's health woes.

Those ranged from creating a comprehensive directory of places for physical fitness activities to looking at ways to change streetscapes to improve safety.

The project started with a June 2011 assessment by the Lexington Fayette County Health Department that measured residents' concerns about health, and then local businesses, non-profit groups, health care providers and government agencies joined to come up with solutions.

Friday was the first time that all the interested groups met together.

Helping people find employment and improving neighborhood safety are what Carman called "social determinants of health."

If you address those problems, they have ripple effects that improve the health of people involved, she said.

Because drug-related crimes are common, a key part of improving neighborhood safety is decreasing substance abuse, said Sandy Canon, a member of the Board of Health and the chief administrative officer for SteinGroup.

Reducing the amount of prescription medicine available for illegal sale by encouraging people to throw out medicine they aren't using has been successful, she said. But as one problem is settled, others often become more troublesome. In the case of substance abuse, she said, as prescription drugs become less of a problem, heroin use is becoming more prevalent.

She said she was encouraged that solutions could be found because of the enthusiasm of the people involved. The group decided to meet as a whole four times a year and work on practical solutions in small groups.

Public health commissioner Dr. Rice Leach said people can do some things to improve their health that "don't cost a nickel," including getting more sleep, not smoking and not drinking alcohol. He said it was good to see so many groups represented and that all hands will be needed to really attack the health problems in Fayette county.

"There is an old saying: There is no 'your side' when the canoe is leaking," he said. "We are all in this thing together."

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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