As health care costs rise, Fillmore County Public Health is taking steps to pinpoint areas within the county its citizens may deem as a significant problems. Last week, Public Health hosted three Healthy Bluff Country Summits for businesses and organizations within the county to identify the top 10 concerns in regard to health in Fillmore County.

The mission for Fillmore County Public Health, shared as part of the health summit, is to support "healthy lifestyles among Fillmore County residents through performance, promotion and protection."

In order to fulfill its mission, there are six services the department offers to the county. These services assure an adequate local public health infrastructure, promote healthy communities and healthy behaviors to prevent the spread of infectious disease, protect against environmental health hazards, prepare for and respond to disasters and assist communities in recovery and assure the quality and accessibility of health services.

The goal for the summit was to work on improving three of the 10 main concerns over the next five years.

Last October, Public Health sent out questions based on people's perception of community health, individual health behaviors, availability of health services, future public health priorities and demographics.

Using the results from the assessment, Public Health staff categorized the answers returned, all of which are related to one of the six services. Categories ranged from physical activity, nutrition and public nuisances to traffic safety, drugs and alcohol, to family planning, chronic health conditions and mental health and more.

Several groups in attendance at the summits went over the facts and scenarios compiled as a result of the survey and provided necessary data to Public Health for identifying the 10 most important community health issues. Of those 10, Fillmore County Public Health will work to improve three of these issues in the next five years.

A few interesting facts learned at the summit had to do with driving in Fillmore County and mental health. Apparently, Fillmore County has the worst driving record in the state of Minnesota due in part to distracted driving, like driving while on the phone or texting while driving. Mental concerns are also increasing in the county with more people moving to the area because of cheaper housing and being close to great health care.

Among the top 10 most prevalent health concerns noted were physical activity, tobacco, traffic safety, vaccine preventable diseases, nutrition, water quality, alcohol, family planning and chronic health conditions.

After identifying the top health issues, the next step for the department was to work on a community health improvement plan. During the summit, Brenda Pohlman from Fillmore County Public Health briefed those in attendance on the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). The goal in the program is to improve health by increasing opportunities for healthy choices. It focuses on the issues of obesity and tobacco use.

Pohlman offered statistics such as two out of three Minnesotans are overweight or obese and one in six smoke. She stated these two issues are the two leading causes of death and they alone are driving up healthcare costs be almost $24 million, just in Fillmore County.

Beginning in 2008, SHIP worked to bring down the health care costs and increasing healthy choices where people live, work and play.

SHIP has four different categories for fulfilling its goals, working locally with community, school, workplace and health care partners to produce lasting results. One is a community-based strategy. This strategy would implement more active transportation increasing the opportunities for people to walk or ride bicycle to their locations.

A second strategy is improving access to healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits and their affordability. This could include developing new farmers markets or new community gardens.

Another possibility is active childcare to increase healthy eating and physical activity in licensed childcare and preschool settings.

To decrease the use of tobacco products, there would be implementing voluntary smoke-free housing policies in multiunit housing and tobacco-free outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, zoos, fairs and other recreational settings.

A second category is the healthy school strategy. This strategy includes healthy eating in school, "Farm to School" programs which connect farmers to the schools in providing fresh, local foods. It also involves providing an active school day and tobacco-free, post-secondary campuses.

As adults spend a big chunk of their waking time at work, the third category involves worksite initiatives. These initiatives involve healthy food environments, tobacco-free worksite policies, physical activity environment and breastfeeding support for new mothers.

SHIP is also working together with health care systems to strengthen partnerships, enhance methods for screening and documentation of Body Mass Index, blood pressure and tobacco use and exposure. It also provides technical assistance to clinicians and clinic staff on effective approaches for addressing those issues stated previously as well as to encourage breastfeeding for new mothers. The SHIP program also hopes to strengthen referral systems to in-house or community resources and to promote use of existing billing codes for reimbursement of provision of services related to these strategies.

Fillmore County and Houston County are both working to resolve health issues within the counties and implementing SHIP as well. Both counties are seeking partners to aid them in these programs and incentives.