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Fort HealthCare Leads Efforts to Improve Jefferson County Health Rankings

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

JEFFERSON COUNTY – The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released the 2013 County Health Rankings on March 20. The county health rankings examine the health and well-being of people living in nearly every county in every state in the country, and shows that how long and how well people live depends upon multiple factors beyond just their access to medical care. The annual report ranks counties according to their summary measures of health outcomes and health factors.

Health behaviors are those with both immediate and long-term effects on health such as smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, motor vehicle crash death rates, teen birth rate and sexually transmitted diseases. Counties also receive a rank for mortality (how long you live), morbidity (quality of your life), health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.

The rankings are shown on the website Residents of Jefferson County have experienced some improvements since last year, but can still clearly be healthier.

Out of 72 counties in the state, Jefferson County ranks 28th for both Health Outcomes and Health Factors. This is an improvement from just a year ago, when those categories were reported as 33rd and 34th, respectively.

Jefferson County ranked 31st for Mortality (a measure of years of potential life lost prior to age 75) and 33rd for Morbidity (self-reported fair or poor health, poor physical or mental health days and percentage of low birth weight babies). Last year, the county ranked 31st and 39th for those factors, respectively. While Mortality has not shifted upward on the scale, Morbidity certainly has.

Statewide, the rankings report that in the counties where people don’t live as long and don’t feel as well have the highest rates of smoking, teen births, and physical inactivity, as well as more preventable hospital stays.

Fort HealthCare President and CEO, Mike Wallace, states, “Despite our efforts to favorably impact the health of our patients, serious health, social, economic and environmental issues remain in our service area. Obesity, diabetes, tobacco and alcohol abuse and other serious problems are prevalent. Today’s medical care is said to account for only ten percent of overall health status. The environment (5 percent), social factors (15 percent) and lifestyle and behavior (40 percent) all have much more impact on the health and well-being of a community.”

Fort HealthCare leadership has recognized the need to take a more future-oriented approach to managing the health of our local population and a more pro-active stance on improving the economic and social welfare of the region.

Fort HealthCare’s community health improvement activity directly supports its Mission and Vision. Fort HealthCare’s Mission is to improve the health and well-being of our community with a Vision to be the healthiest community in Wisconsin.

Fort HealthCare’s response to the county’s scores each year is in the form of implementing strategies that have a positive, reforming influence over the health factors that can be controlled in order to better the population’s health over time. These health factors include:

  • improvements in clinical care and access to it
  • educating the population about the importance of positive health behaviors
  • encouraging safe and supportive work and neighborhood environments
  • implementing strategic policies and programs that align with goals that support Fort HealthCare’s Mission and Vision

Wallace, states, “We believe the goal to create Wisconsin’s Healthiest Community is an incredibly important undertaking. To continue to make this happen, we have to educate area residents as to the benefits of becoming the healthiest community, help each community be ready to embrace and act upon health-related messages, and help area residents see the benefits of making lifestyle improvements and having a relationship with a primary care physician. We also hope to motivate all individuals to see how their health affects the overall population.”

Bridget Monahan, Fort HealthCare Director of Community Health and Wellness, states, “If we take individual responsibility for our own health, and encourage others to be healthy, too, we’ll all benefit. That way, we’ll improve the rankings in all categories.”

Data collected from Fort HealthCare’s community health assessment conducted in 2011 and early 2012 shows the obesity rate in Jefferson County is approximately 32 percent; much higher than the state’s target of 25 percent. The current overall adult obesity rate in the State of Wisconsin is 27 percent.

Fort HealthCare’s research determined that obesity, diet and nutrition, access to healthcare, exercise and physical activity and preventive care were the five most important issues described by the respondents in the community. These issues were also determined to be very important to employers, school districts and community agencies.

Fort HealthCare Administration and the Fort HealthCare Community Health and Wellness department are actively participating in Jefferson County’s community health improvement plan by building partnerships with businesses, individuals and community organizations to implement action plans that help residents improve the five prevalent areas of concern. Based on the improvement in some of Jefferson County’s individual rankings, the collaboration must be working.

Monahan adds, “As the leading healthcare provider in our region, we have determined that a wide-reaching health and wellness campaign — directed to the public as well as to partners — can positively affect change. Our strategies for making significant changes in Health Outcomes, Health Behaviors and Morbidity focus on health and wellness education, awareness of critical health issues and encouraging healthful behaviors.”

She continues, “Obesity is related to the onset of chronic diseases, such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and joint disease. It increases the cost of health insurance to the individual, the provider, and employers, and it can lead to a shortened life span. To conquer this epidemic, our communities are working together to create change through a variety of strategies. As our partnerships grow, Jefferson County will improve economically and in the physical well-being of its residents. The strategies for addressing these issues include keeping area residents active and physically fit, engaged with primary care, out of the hospital, safe in their community and well in their workplace.”

As the director of Fort HealthCare’s wellness-improvement initiatives, Monahan is intricately involved in helping to build health improvement strategies with area partners. She explains, “Since Fort HealthCare’s first Healthy Communities Summit in June 2012, six community coalitions have been formed as well as a steering committee. Eighty five community leaders from each of these communities attended the summit, and we have since built community partnerships in Cambridge, Jefferson, Fort Atkinson, Johnson Creek, Lake Mills, Palmyra and Whitewater.”

Fort HealthCare is working with these community-based coalitions to mobilize their assets. The key goal is to reduce obesity in adults by three percent in Jefferson County by 2016.

Monahan states, “The expertise and guidance of the Department of Public Health as well as implementing some of the assessment tools and strategies that we’ve been working on will provide area communities with the knowledge and skills needed to help create an infrastructure that can lead to important changes in the overall health of each community. Partnerships between the communities and Fort HealthCare will maximize effectiveness and minimize duplication over time. The result will undoubtedly be one that will shift the culture in our region to one of making healthier choices, and therefore, improve the health outcomes of area residents.”

“To become the healthiest community in Wisconsin, we must continually provide programs that address critical preventive health issues,” said James Shulkin, director of planning and market development. “This effort also includes making sure area residents pay attention to regular preventative care guidelines that tell them when to get mammograms, colonoscopies and other health screenings.”

In late 2012, Fort HealthCare launched the Let’s Do This! Campaign. The campaign messaging encourages everyone to work toward a shared goal. The Let’s Do This! campaign is a literal call to action. It is positive, motivating and should appeal to all audiences, from individuals, to employers to community coalitions. The Let’s Do This! mark can be seen in current Fort HealthCare print advertising, billboards and social media including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and is reinforced in radio advertisements.

Shulkin adds, “To help area residents, local non-profit organizations and employers find those resources that will help everyone become as healthy as can be, we have also created a web-based portal for wellness programming at The webpage encourages everyone to take action, make healthy changes, and improve their lives. There is even a place where people can ‘take the pledge,’ or promise to become healthier, and join in with other like-minded individuals in the community. We have many tools in place to help people stay engaged, motivated and informed about ways to be active and improve their lifestyle habits to become healthier.”

Wallace notes, “At Fort HealthCare, we’re committed to greater engagement in the overall health of the community and are actively encouraging other individuals to join us. Our partnerships are the foundation for our mutual success. It’s our goal to provide information, education, programs and tools that our communities can put in place to help individuals and families enjoy good health for now and in years to come.”

For more information and to find resources that will help individuals become as healthy as can be, or to “Take the Pledge” visit