Initiatives are foundation for healthy community

September 11, 2011
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Even as this nation commemorates the 10th anniversary of 9-11, the scars of those ferocious attacks are still evident. Indeed, they were evident when thousands of Americans spontaneously walked into the streets just months ago and then celebrated the announcement of Bin Laden’s death, most of them young Americans and college students, holding one another from afar through Facebook and Twitter. The profound impact on a generation is obvious. And the American soldiers now immersed for a decade in another “war like no other” are coming home with profoundly different wounds.

The Grand Rapids regional business community is once again studying problems and inventing resolutions with two new partnerships announced separately but which may prove to be joined.

First, the 25 percent unemployment rate among veterans is a national tragedy, and that is recognized by a new partnership among businesses. Cascade Engineering is once again leading the effort for change along with Compass Point Labor Management. The companies last week announced a new initiative: Armed Forces to Work Forces. The partners will hold a summit Oct. 3 for business leaders interested in joining the partnership and learning how to place veterans.

Cascade is making use of its extensive experience; for example, with its division Quest Sustainable Solutions, a consulting group that has created such programs as “welfare to career.” Cascade Engineering is involved in a national program to assist community collaboration efforts to support poverty reduction and work force re-entry.

Compass Point Labor Management also is involved at the national level and has been working with the U.S. Armed Forces to build employment paths for military personnel transitioning to civilian careers. Among the citations for its work is a $5 million U.S. Department of Labor grant assisting its programs.

The second program is another collaboration aimed at one of the most common causes of work force absenteeism: depression (see story on page 3). The Business Journal today leaves the discussion of mental health parity issues aside to emphasize the local team effort between physicians and behavioral health professionals. Pioneering efforts in Minnesota have become a national model, and the West Michigan region will be one among few to begin the initiative that has proven to reduce health care costs.

The Alliance for Health is directing the program throughout the region with funding and oversight from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The collaboration already includes all regional hospitals and medical networks, Priority Heath and Blue Cross Blue Shield. The program was outlined and presented to health care leaders last week by the Dow Chemical Co. global director of health services.

Either of these initiatives, already powered by affiliations and experience, will have sustainable impact in this region with participation of other businesses. The Business Journal encourages that participation toward long-term solutions.

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