Health Care

Alliance for Health to focus on healthy eating

Annual meeting features stronger financial picture and new board members.

May 23, 2014
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The next West Michigan health issue posing a threat — as well as economic development opportunities — will be at the forefront this year for the Alliance for Health.

The nonprofit organization at its annual meeting last week identified stimulating a dialogue about “healthy eating” as its emphasis for the next year.

The Alliance also discussed its financial status and presented new board members at the meeting.

For the financial year ended Dec. 31, Alliance for Health reported total revenue of $1.21 million, which is a 4.8 percent increase from 2012’s $1.15 million in total revenue. Total expenses decreased roughly 5 percent, from $1.19 million in 2012 to $1.14 million in 2013. Treasurer Brian LaFrenier said the organization added approximately $70,000 to its annual fund balance.

Don Hall, board chair, said the accomplishments for 2013, including financial gains and events put on by the Alliance, are due in great part to immediate past president and CEO Lody Zwarensteyn.

“The executive committee wishes to extend its appreciation to Lody for the great job he did in 2013, as (he did) for the previous 41 years,” said Hall. “This is just a quality of his work that he passed on to Paul Brand, the new president and CEO, to carry forward.”

Brand said the organization has been a trusted resource in West Michigan on health and health care issues, and the next big issue is stimulating a new dialogue about the definition of eating healthy.

“We have this huge issue of misinformation in our families and our employees and friends and neighbors about what healthy means,” said Brand. “And the research is in, and we are all addicted to how we eat. You will hear our health care leaders tell us over and over that 70 percent of what they take care of is lifestyle related. … It means self-inflicted by diet.”

The Alliance has created a collaborative impact effort in West Michigan known as Learning Leaders for Health and Nutrition, which includes approximately 35 organizations, such as Kent County Health Department, Baxter Community Center, Michigan State College of Human Medicine, Grand Valley State University’s School of Nursing and The Employers’ Association.

Brand said the organization hopes to put some of the remaining financial support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation toward tackling the health issue, including: funding the initial effort of the Learning Leaders collaborative and creating the right messaging using social media.

“We’ve got to work together. We are convening the dialogue about how we begin to organize ourselves to go at this differently,” said Brand. “The message is for our families, for our employers, for our churches, our schools. … There is no bigger issue that we face either in health or health care or economic development.”

Although the process of addressing the problem is yet to be identified, the problem is solvable and is also an economic development opportunity, according to Brand.

“Our health care trade partners are working as fast as they can with the burden of illness that is coming at them, but they can’t win,” said Brand. “Should West Michigan figure this out … we (will be) the model for the nation. We will be the place to work and live in the country, and I don’t care how many inches of snow, this is where employers will want to be and we will all rise together as a region.”

Learning Leaders for Health and Nutrition was planning to meet last Friday to discuss the first step the collaborative effort will take, according to Brand.

The Alliance also announced new board members: Jeff Fortenbacher, president and CEO of Access Health, and Larry Yachcik, president and CEO at Porter Hills.

The organization also reappointed Thomas Haas, president of GVSU, with Jean Nagelkerk, vice provost for health at GVSU, as alternate; Dr. Marsha Rappley, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine; Jerry Kooiman, assistant dean of admissions at MSU College of Human Medicine; and Joe Gavan, president of Potomac Ventures.

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