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Gorge health focus scores prize

A national foundation has honored Columbia Gorge health providers and community organizations with a $25,000 award for their inclusive and collaborative approach to health care.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has chosen the Columbia Gorge as one of seven locations nationally to win the 2016 Culture of Health prize.

The prize gives area partners an opportunity to network with other prize-winning communities.

“As one of the key partners in health care in the region, [Mid-Columbia Medical Center] is honored by this recognition from the foundation,” said Duane Francis, president and CEO. “We truly have expanded the definition of health care and are working hard to treat the whole person. We understand that wellness is more than simply staying out of the hospital. It’s nice when an organization like RWJF takes note of that.”

RWJF is the largest philanthropic organization in the U.S. solely focused on health and is based in Princeton, N.J. There were about 240 applicants for the prize and foundation officials made awards to the gorge and six other locations: The St. Louis area of Missouri; Louisville, Ky.; Manchester, N.H.; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Santa Monica, Calif.; and the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe in Washington.

To become a Culture of Health prize winner, the Columbia Gorge and others had to demonstrate excellence under the following six criteria:

• Defining health in the broadest possible terms.

• Commitment to sustainable systems changes and policy-oriented long-term solutions.

• Cultivating a shared and deeply-held belief in the importance of equal opportunity for health.

• Harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners and community members.

• Securing and making the most of available resources.

• Measuring and sharing progress and results.

“The Culture of Health prize is a great recognition that we’re heading in the right direction,” said Sarah Sullivan, executive director of Gorge Grown, a network of individuals and organizations working to build a local food system across five Mid-Columbia counties.

Gorge Grown applied for the prize on behalf of a long list of community partners, including MCMC, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, North Central Public Health District, PacificSource Community Solutions, The Next Door, Inc., and others.

“Creating a partnership with the foundation opens the door for opportunities to expand the better health initiatives we’re all working on,” said John Huffman, outreach coordinator for MCMC.

He said the Gorge Health Council, which represents all four hospitals in the region as well as One Community Health and other care providers, is tabulating data from an assessment that will help further their collective goals.

“That study will identify what the most critical needs in the Mid-Columbia are,” said Huffman.

He said the results are likely to closely match those of a previous analysis that listed a lack of affordable housing, food insecurity and better access to mental health and dental care as needs.

“Stress can make people unhealthy so wellness is described more broadly now than it was five years ago,” said Huffman.

The broad definition of health in the gorge and the many areas of focus — including giving voice to the region’s large Latino population — aligned with the RWJF goals.

“The Culture of Health prize communities show us that, in towns and regions across the nation, individuals are coming

together to find powerful ways to help people achieve the best health possible,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the foundation.

“We’re privileged to learn from this growing network of communities that offer hope for the well-being of the entire nation.” Collective Impact Health Specialist Paul Lindberg has a position funded by Providence through the United Way of the Columbia Gorge. He said the region’s approach to wellness calls for collaboration across sectors, geographic lines and audiences.“It’s a willingness to be open and to listen to our end users and what our community actually needs, as well as a willingness to collaborate as community partners to address those needs,” he said.

Lindberg said communities in the area still have a long way to go before identified challenges are solved.

For example, one in three people in the gorge worry about having enough food to eat, there isn’t anywhere near enough housing, etc.

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