EVERETT — Hundreds of leaders in medicine, business, government and social services plan to gather next week to kick off an initiative that could reshape the way health care is viewed and practiced in Snohomish County.
The Edge of Amazing Community Health Summit is a sold-out daylong event Thursday that includes talks and panel discussions designed to get more organizations working together on initiatives to help improve the health and quality of life of everyone in the county.
The timing is ripe for a rethink because health care costs are still rising nationally, turning into an economic and moral problem in addition to a medical one.
“Medical care alone cannot substantially improve our community’s health a lot beyond where it is today; clinicians understand this,” said Scott Forslund, the director of the leadership coalition and a senior director of the Providence Institute, which is based at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
Research done so far has indicated that just improving healthy habits among the population could cut medical costs anywhere from 20 percent for diabetes and mental disorders to 50 percent for heart disease, he said.
“It is social determinants, such as stable housing, income, education, social connectedness, these kinds of attributes predict about 50 percent of how long people will live and the quality of their life,” Forslund said.
The ultimate goal is to develop initiatives that affect people’s health and quality of life both long before and long after someone might visit a doctor or hospital.
In that sense, Forslund said, it’s looking at health care more in line with the World Health Organization’s official definition: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
For example, people who have stable housing have been shown to use emergency rooms at a substantially lower rate than those who do not, and that correlates with higher incomes, he said.
“Income itself is one of the key predictors of health and length of life,” Forslund said.
The Providence Institute has adopted five goals: to make a tangible and measurable difference in health in Snohomish County, to focus on all aspects of health and well being both inside and outside the medical system, to form partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, governments and communities and build on what is already under way, develop a more sustainable business model for Providence Regional Medical Center. If successful, the goal is to use these initiatives as models which can be replicated elsewhere.
The institute plans to concentrate on four main areas to achieve these goals: identifying community health priorities and progress through extensive outreach, holding education and training events, working with businesses to improve workforce health, and solidifying community partnerships in a variety of initiatives.
LiveHealthy 2020 is one of the first initiatives out of the gate. It’s a nutrition and fitness program that is intended to involve people all across the county, in schools, businesses and elsewhere in the community.
Right now, 58 organizations representing more than 70,000 people have signed on to LiveHealthy 2020, Forslund said.
Those groups will help set the program’s path at Thursday’s health summit, and the plan is that more ideas and momentum will spill outward from the event.
“This community has everything it needs to flourish,” he said.