Community seen as key to health improvements

Posted: Tuesday, April 04, 2000

The central Kenai Peninsula is a great place to live, but it could be better.

Making it better requires individuals to pull together with a sense of community.

Healthy Communities-Healthy People intends to do that through its mission of enhancing individual, community and ecological health and well-being.

The informal task force held its third annual meeting Thursday evening in Kenai to review accomplishments and look ahead to a new phase of activism.

After several years discussing the concepts underlying community health, the group is poised to convert its ideas into concrete, constructive change.

"It may never be perfect, but it's going to get better," said Joe Donahue. "In 25 years, what would you like to see?"

Donahue, a consultant from JD's Professional Assistance, outlined the group's Public Health Improvement Plan for the Central Kenai Peninsula, completed in December. The group obtained grant funding to pursue an ambitious agenda in 2000, based on the plan's recommendations.

While working on the plan, HC/HP members concluded that peninsula residents must consider public health in the broadest sense to make true improvements.

Public Health Nurse JoAnn Hagen, the group's president, emphasized the open and inclusive approach.

"We believe that the individual, the family, the community and the ecology really interact," she said. "And where they overlap is health."

To address health concerns, HC/HP serves as a network among existing groups. It works as a resource and catalyst with medical, governmental, educational, media, community service, religious, emergency, business, environmental and social entities. It promotes projects emphasizing education and prevention as key to improving the general quality of life.

"We see ourselves as a virtual organization, not as a bureaucracy," Hagen said.

The group meets the second Thursday of each month at Bridges on Kasilof Street in Soldotna. Its meetings are open to the public.

Since its inception in 1991 through a Kenai Peninsula Borough committee, the group has become known for its activities. These include the village health fairs and an array of community forums and workshops.

HC/HP has worked on topics as diverse as ownership of Central Peninsula General Hospital, water quality in the Kenai River and collaborating with state officials to improve Alaska's Public Health Service.

Recently, the group hired two people to work on tasks outlined in the improvement plan.

Coordinator Lisa Parker will help set up surveys to assess health indicators on the peninsula and organize a series of community meetings in Sterling, Soldotna, Kasilof, Kenai and Nikiski.

Cindy Sawyer is the coordinator for a new project to improve access to dental health care for low-income residents of the central peninsula.

HC/HP also is involved in dispersing "mini-grants" for community projects, planning for the future Kenai health clinic and the statewide Alaska Public Health Improvement Plan.

The activities of the group on the Kenai Peninsula are serving as a model for the rest of Alaska. State public health officials, including Dr. Peter Nakamura, director of the Division of Public Health, attended Thursday's meeting to voice their support.

Nakamura told the group he is looking forward to working with HC/HP as the state develops 21st century systems for evaluating community health, sharing information and enhancing leadership.

Nancy Davis, the chief of nursing for the Alaska Division of Public Health, told the group HC/HP is on the right track.

"I have been so impressed by the work of the Kenai community," she said.

"Not every community pulls together and tackles hard questions like you do. We use Kenai as an example. You are a great group."

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