Michigan falls short on health goals

February 4, 2010
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LANSING — Every 10 years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sets a standard that’s difficult for states to meet.

Its Healthy People 2010 initiative features 467 objectives that states have difficulty meeting in total. Its two overarching goals are to “increase quality and years of healthy life” and “eliminate health disparities.”

Michigan is nowhere near reaching the latter target.

“We didn't meet Healthy People 2000, and I don't get a feel of ‘let's see if we can make them in the next year,’” said Debbie Lown, assistant professor in the biomedical sciences department and an epidemiologist at Grand Valley State University. Lown said that there’s no way Michigan will meet the Healthy People 2010 objectives, and the overall goal of eliminating health disparities, by the New Year.

“Progress I’ve seen has occurred more in people of higher economic status than those of lower socioeconomic status,” she said. “Even when we are trying to improve the health of Americans, we’re still improving it disproportionately.”

According the James McCurtis, public information officer for the Department of Community Health, there are no repercussions for failing to meet the national goals.

“I don’t think there are consequences, per se. The punishment is that people aren’t going to be healthy,” he said.

A more feasible state-level plan was formed in 2004, but it, too, is aimed at 2010 and has failed to eliminate health disparities.

“It’s important states keep in mind that what might be good across the country might not fit with the state goals,” McCurtis said of the plan.

He said that Michigan has higher rates of lung cancer, disabilities and obesity than most other states. Although it’s impossible that Michigan will meet all national or state 2010 objectives, some churches are still keeping 2010 aims in mind.

For example, Omni Faith Health Services was an outreach program funded through Spectrum Health. It worked toward eliminating health disparities by reaching out to churches in lower socioeconomic communities.

“We’d assist them in planning health programs in their congregations. Health fairs were put on. Health information was put out. Flu clinics were also offered at the churches,” said Robin Parks, a registered nurse and supervisor of Spectrum’s Core Health Program, which has replaced Omni.

The program is in its pilot stage and provides nurses to make home visits to help 60 people manage their chronic diseases.

“Our focus in the future will be working with churches again but using a different model,” Parks said.

She said diseases highlighted by Healthy People 2010, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, disproportionately affect poorer people.

“There was a need to reach this population because of health disparities,” Parks said.

Suzan Couzens is the executive director of Grand Rapids Area Health Ministry Consortium, a nonprofit that works with Christian churches to promote better health.

She says that churches are natural places to educate people about healthy lifestyles.

“When you’re talking about a church, they meet weekly. They’re used to hearing about how to better care for themselves spiritually, but when you add a health ministry or parish nurse, it adds the physical component,” she said.

Her organization works with 50 nurses to organize programs that push healthy eating and exercise. It also does one-on-one counseling for people recently diagnosed with chronic illnesses.

McCurtis says that although Community Health doesn’t actively partner with churches as a means of outreach, it’s a future possibility.

“Anytime anyone is pushing for good health in the community, we’re all for that,” said McCurtis.

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