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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Karen Valenzuela, Thurston County Commissioner, (360) 754-4645
Laura Hitchcock, Executive Director, WA State Public Health Association, (206) 276-6637

Area Health Champions Recognized During National Public Health Week, April 5-11, 2010

OLYMPIA – In observance of National Public Health Week, officially declared in Washington State by Governor Christine Gregoire, the Washington State Public Health Association has announced its first annual “Health Champions” award recipients –people who demonstrate what individuals and communities can do in making a difference in our state’s health. Recognizing these people for their leadership is meant to inspire others and spark commitments to individual and community action to improve our health.

“People in our community can make a real difference if they commit to healthy behaviors for themselves, their children and families,” says Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, who is Chair of the county Board of Health. “Simply shifting from a health system focused primarily on care of the sick to one focused on the prevention of disease and injury would yield tremendously improved health outcomes.”

Health Champions are recognized from the individual, community, business, school, national, elected official and exemplary public service categories. According to Dr. Nancy Goodloe, Past President of Washington State Public Health Association (WSPHA), “Public health champions come from all walks of life. Those we are recognizing this year include doctors, nurses, school principals, elected officials, business people, and nonprofit organization volunteers. Through their leadership, our state’s child immunization program was saved, thousands have quit smoking or taken steps towards healthier eating and exercise, kids received their check-ups, parents had support to help their kids be healthy and avoid injury, and communities began to take charge of their own health needs.”

Laura Hitchcock, Executive Director of WSPHA, emphasizes that while Americans spend more money on health care than any other country, millions still do not have a usual place to go for medical care and 20 percent of Americans have delayed or postponed medical care often because of costs.

Furthermore, she said, the United Sates ranked dead last in preventable deaths in a recent review of 19 industrialized countries. Though America has devoted countless hours of debate to health reform, the United States is trailing the rest of the developed world in the key and preventable deaths and diseases. “We need more champions like these across our communities,” said Hitchcock.

For more than a decade, communities around the country have celebrated National Public Health Week each April to draw attention to the need to help protect and improve the nation’s health. The observance is sponsored and promoted each year by the American Public Health Association.

“Our ultimate goal is to make America the healthiest nation in one generation. We envision our nation as a place where everyone has access to health care and a healthy lifestyle is celebrated,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. “We want to make it easy for communities to make healthy choices every day. If we each commit to promoting good health in our communities, we can create a ripple effect across our neighborhoods, our cities, states and hopefully, our nation.”

The Olympia-area Health Champions, who will be recognized at the next meeting of the Thurston County Board of Health, are:

  • Dr. Beth Harvey of the Dept. of Social & Health Services and Jana Bardi of the Dept. of Health, for their work with business, insurers, non-profits and government through passage of a new law to prevent elimination of the state’s universal vaccine program (community category);
  • Gayle Marchun, Principal of Madison Elementary School, for her leadership in improving student health through a “Rock and Roll” program, whose goal is to build a new generation of healthy and safe walkers, bicycle and bus riders and other nutrition and obesity-prevention efforts (schools category);
  • Robin Higa, for her work developing and implementing a Community Café model to help communities identify health and other challenges, how to better protect children from injury, and create actionable solutions, a model that has now spread to at least 8 other states (national category);
  • Congressmembers Brian Baird and Adam Smith, along with other members of Washington’s Congressional delegation (Reps. McDermott, Dicks, and Inslee and Senators Cantwell and Murray) for their support of the new national health care reform bill, and particularly prevention of disease provisions of the law (elected official category); and
  • Mary Selecky, Secretary of the WA Dept. of Health, for her leadership during the H1N1 epidemic and overall promotion of the role of local public health agencies in our healthcare system (exemplary service category).

For a complete list of all Health Champions, go to www.wspha.org

County Commissioners:

Carolina Mejia
District 1

Gary Edwards
District 2

Tye Menser
District 3