Well being — and being well

Health is too important for us to leave it to the doctors. Or, at least, entirely to the doctors.

Imagine you were a smoker in 1965. Visits to your M.D. usually brought words of warning or admonishment … and you kept on smoking. But eventually something happened, Dr. Gary Goldbaum of the Snohomish Health District, recently observed. Over a 45-year-period, the U.S. adult smoking rate declined by 50 percent.

The motivation didn’t come just once a year at the doctor’s office; it came whenever you wanted to light up at a restaurant. Or on an airplane. Or inside a public building. Our society’s attitude toward tobacco shifted, and you began hearing from educators and employers, friends and loved ones: Cigarettes will kill you, please try to quit.

This example embodies the spirit and ambition that drive the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition. The group launched the “Gear Up &Go” youth activity program at most county elementary schools. It also sponsors a palliative care initiative to help seriously ill people take steps to ensure they’ll get the specific kinds of treatment they value and need.

Scott Forslund, executive with Premera Blue Cross and director of the coalition, says these projects support two goals: better long-term health for county residents and medical cost savings. The projects also are meant to inspire community-wide commitment to endowing Snohomish County with a reputation as a healthy place.

This effort depends on broad participation. The Health Leadership Coalition is unabashedly evangelical about this, and it is reflected in the makeup of the steering committee. Yes, there are folks from hospitals, health agencies and insurance companies. But the dozen or so members also come from the United Way, YMCA, Puget Sound Regional Council, Snohomish County Senior Services and Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Everett Public Schools are represented – and schools are the mainstay of the Gear Up &Go program. The faith community is represented – and churches perform vital outreach for the palliative care initiative. Forslund anticipates a day when work now led by the steering committee is embraced by a robust mix of businesses, civic groups, non-profits and public agencies.

We should consider health a cornerstone of prosperity. Troy McClelland of EASC says future employers will be drawn to a place with healthy, efficient workers – not to mention lower insurance premiums. Likewise, Scott Washburn of the YMCA, believes the coalition’s success will impress businesses that “this is a community that knows how to solve tough problems.”

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