Today Thurston County Commissioners proclaimed April 2014 to be Public Health Month in Thurston County, part of a national effort to raise awareness of public health services and programs during the month of April. Commissioners also noted that the Thurston Thrives initiative that began last year in April has made significant progress, and that they are looking forward to the remaining Thurston Thrives Action Team reports due later this spring and summer.
"Designating April 2014 as Public Health Month is an opportunity for this board to acknowledge all of the great accomplishments and progress our Thurston Thrives advisory members and partners have made over the last year," said County Commissioner and Board of Health Chair Cathy Wolfe. "Although we have accomplished a lot, this proclamation also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the work still in progress. It's a reminder that it will take all of us working together to create a healthier community."
The Thurston Thrives initiative kicked off last year on April 9 with the appointment of 13 members to the Thurston Thrives Advisory Council. The advisory group includes business leaders, health professionals, community leaders, and other citizens from all walks of life who are dedicated to improving community health with the Thurston Thrives initiative. The advisory council members have worked with policy makers and citizens to study the challenges and develop solutions for four key areas that make a difference in quality of life and how long people live—health behavior, the physical and built environment, health services, in addition to local social and economic conditions. Thurston Thrives is unique in its examination of factors that are not typically considered to be part of public health policy, such as socio-economic factors like the availability of living wage jobs, adequate affordable housing, and success in school.
County Commission Chair Karen Valenzuela said, "Thurston Thrives is about fundamentally changing the way we think about our community's health. Access to healthy food, education, housing, how we design our neighborhoods—all of these things impact our health. Thurston Thrives focuses all of these considerations into our policy decisions to help create a place where everyone can lead healthier and happier lives."
Today's proclamation comes one week after the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released its annual County Health Rankings report. Thurston County held steady this year, again ranking ninth out of Washington's 39 counties when it comes to community health. Looking at factors outside of the doctor's office, the County Health Rankings project collects data from counties on critical aspects of our community, such as education rates, income levels, and access to healthy foods, as well as access to medical care, that influence how long and how well people live.
County Commissioner Sandra Romero said, "Thurston County has been one of the top ten in Washington for the County Health Rankings for the last two years, but what I like about the Thurston Thrives initiative is that we're saying as a community that we can do better. Proclaiming April to be Public Health Month in Thurston County gives us the opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to this effort and dig deeper into all of the ways we can connect as a community to improve our overall health." Romero is the lead of the Thurston Thrives Child & Youth Resilience Action Team that released its report and strategy in March.
Paul Knox, Executive Director of United Way of Thurston County, and Danny Kadden, Interfaith Works Executive Director, co-chair the Thurston Thrives Community Resilience Action Team. This action team is working to identify strategies to bolster the engagement and cohesion of people and organizations in Thurston County for the common good—a key goal of the whole Thurston Thrives initiative.
"Research has shown that engaged people are healthier and happier and so are their communities," Knox said. "Our community is better and stronger when people are engaged and involved by volunteering their time and money to support activities that join people together and improve our conditions."
Kadden added, "There's not just one way to improve the health of Thurston County. There are thousands of small things that people throughout the community can do that bring us one step closer to being a healthier, stronger community as a whole. Our goal with this action team is to create a menu of strategies and encourage people to find their own personal way to engage and join this community effort."
To learn more about the Thurston Thrives initiative, the advisory council and action teams, or participate in the ongoing Thurston Thrives blog conversations, visit www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/thrives
To learn more about the County Health Rankings project and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, visit www.CountyHealthRankings.org