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Healthy Monadnock 2020 offers communities a blueprint to a healthier future

November 8, 2013

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The Cheshire Medical Center/ Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, NH, issued a challenge seven years ago to Cheshire County residents: Let’s work together to become the healthiest community in the nation by 2020.

The hospital formed what is now called the “Healthy Monadnock 2020” initiative to improve the health of not just the 77,000 residents of the county, but the broader region of southwestern New Hampshire, which is home to about 200,000 people. A recent community health survey showed the region has made significant improvements across a range of health indicators.

“We are definitely on our way,” says Linda Rubin, director of Cheshire Medical Center’s healthy community initiative and a member of the Healthy Monadnock 2020’s advisory board. For its leadership of the
community-wide health improvement initiative, Cheshire Medical Center Nov. 4 received the AHA Carolyn Boone Lewis Living the Vision Award. Renamed in 2002 in memory of the first hospital trustee to serve as AHA chairman, the award honors hospitals that are helping to build healthier communities through actions that go beyond traditional hospital care.

“Becoming the healthiest community is a significant challenge and it’s one that Cheshire Medical Center is ready to meet,” said AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock, who traveled to Keene Monday to present the award to hospital leaders.

Under the Healthy Monadnock 2020 banner, more than 2,200 people and 85 area businesses so far are registered in a “Champions” program – a grassroots effort aimed at creating a healthy workplace, school or club environment. Champions pledge to live, share and inspire others to follow the goals and values of Healthy Monadnock 2020. “They are our boots on the ground advocates for change in the community,” says Rubin.

Cheshire Medical Center CEO and President Art Nichols describes Healthy Monadnock 2020 as an “attempt to change
how we perceive our health, and to create an awareness of the importance individuals play in determining their own health status. “ A 30-member advisory board includes representatives of schools, local government agencies, social service and youth organizations and businesses. It meets six times a year to evaluate strategies designed to keep the community on a pathway to progress on major health measures. A wide range of initiatives are supported and advanced, like, for example, city committees making it safer for kids to walk or bike to school, a local food coalition increasing the community’s access to fresh food and a community program helping workplaces become advocates for healthy living.

For Healthy Monadnock 2020, community health includes things like transportation infrastructure – demonstrated through “Complete Streets,” a nationwide safe streets project spearheaded in the area by the Monadnock Region Transportation Management Association (MRTMA) and Keene Planning Commission. The term is used to describe a set of design principles that promote safer access for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public
transportation users of all ages and abilities.

The Complete Streets model, recently adopted in Keene, will help planning or public works departments consider all user groups, not just cars, when reconstructing or building new streets, says MRTMA coordinator J.B. Mack. MRTMA is a major partner in the Healthy Monadnock 2020 initiative.

“The goal is to make all users comfortable on our streets,” Mack says. “If you don’t have the infrastructure on the roads that make it safe for people to walk and bike then they are less likely to make those activities part of their lifestyle.”

Another Healthy Monadnock 2020 partner is the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition (MFCC), a coalition of local food producers. “Being a part of [the initiative] helps us amplify our message about getting more people to eat healthy local food,” says Amanda Littleton, district manager for the Cheshire County Conservation District, and one of MFCC’s leaders. The coalition wants to expand markets for area farmers and provide residents better access to fresh produce.

Andrew Bohannon is director of the city’s parks and recreations department and a member of the Healthy Monadnock 2020 board. Improving Keene’s trail system – as part of the community health initiative – is a priority. “Our trail
system provides a direct link to the Healthy 2020 Monadnock initiative because it is a resource for people to commute, shop, eat and just connect from the east to west side of the city,” he says. “Our trails get people outdoors, and being outdoors has a great effect on personal health.”

Most of the funding for Healthy Monadnock 2020 comes from the hospital’s Cheshire Health Foundation, with support from grants and private donations.

As the initiative’s “organizational backbone,” Cheshire Medical Center provides overall strategic direction, coordinates the work of its partners and outreach, manages data collection and analysis and mobilizes and leverages funding. Rubin stresses that Healthy Monadnock 2020 is a community – not a hospital – endeavor. “This is about engaging people in the community to take greater responsibility for their own health,” she says. “The community has embraced this as its own.”

Still, MFCC’s Littleton says the hospital has been “vital in keeping the focus on health improvement and building community identity.” Adds MRTMA’s Mack: “The hospital is the glue that holds everything together. They are our champion.”

For more on the AHA Carolyn Boone Lewis Living the Vision Award, click on: