By Joseph W. Thompson, MD, MPH President and CEO, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI)
When it comes to the fight for health and wellness, hospitals and their employees are right there on the front lines. From the moment most babies in Arkansas are born to being a caregiver for the elderly, hospitals have many opportunities not only to lead the charge, but to lead by example when ushering in healthy change.
We’ve seen these paradigm shifts before, in fact. Not so long ago, it wasn’t uncommon for businesses and public spaces to allow smoking indoors. Hospitals, however, were among the first to go smoke-free indoors. Not long after that, hospital visitors and workers couldn’t light up anywhere on hospital grounds. Now, some hospitals won’t even hire smokers. In 2006, the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act was enacted thanks in no small part to the actions and the visible messages – both stated and unstated – Arkansas hospitals provided.
Hospitals are uniquely suited to be such leaders in our communities, our state and our nation. They play major roles as an employer, an economic engine (they are often the biggest – or one of the biggest – members of any given chamber of commerce), a food source through their cafeteria, a champion for the importance of breastfeeding, and of course a caregiver. Not to mention, hospital CEOs often have access to platforms from which they can be influential champions in their communities.
That’s why my colleague Troy Wells, CEO of Baptist Health System, and I approached the Arkansas Hospital Association (AHA) Board and asked for their support following Governor Asa Hutchinson’s launch of the statewide Healthy Active Arkansas Initiative – a 10-year framework of encouraging and enabling healthier lifestyles to reduce obesity in Arkansas.
The AHA board has endorsed the plan and recommended that their members support the nine priority areas of the framework wherever possible. The results have been encouraging, to say the least.
Across the state, hospitals are stepping forward to become “Baby Friendly” hospitals to optimize breastfeeding for our new citizens entering into the world. Willow Creek Women’s Hospital in Johnson and Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville gained recognition just this year. Five more hospitals are pursuing certification with announcements due soon.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital has not only eliminated fryers in their cafeteria, but also sweet tea, and they have added calorie counts to their menu items. Families and employees alike are presented with red, yellow and green serving utensils as visual cues to either limit, moderate or eat away. Water bottle refill stations are located throughout the hospital, and conversations are underway entertaining the elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Elsewhere in Central Arkansas, UAMS has initiated worksite wellness initiatives and made similar improvements to meals served not only in the cafeteria, but also for patients. CHI St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock is working to create indoor and outdoor walking trails by 2018. The Arkansas State Hospital has recognized the need to monitor caloric intake of its patients to help them maintain healthy weights. Baptist Health (in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Conway) hosts a Farmers Market on each of its respective campuses during the summer and has walking trails for employees and visitors. Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton has planned a Wellness Park with a walking path.
Across the state, many activities also are underway. Levi Hospital in Hot Springs launched an employee wellness plan, Wellness Works, and has included heart-healthy hot lunch options. St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro was recognized by the American Heart Association as a Gold Level Fit-Friendly Work Site in 2016. Ouachita County Medical Center in Camden is offering free fitness classes and has added healthy food options in the cafeteria. Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff instituted a Wellness Center with gym equipment, classes and an outdoor track.
These are just some of the many illustrations of how hospitals and their staffs have embraced healthier lifestyles and fitness and, in turn, have become outstanding examples in their communities.
Taking it a step further, two years ago ACHI engaged with the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas to add new categories for their competitive fitness challenge that has been going since 2004 – a competition originally between Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Arkansas Department of Health that now engages employers across the state. The first category added was for hospitals. The three-month competition every spring is aimed at increasing cardiovascular activity, encouraging participants to exercise often throughout the day while logging their activities online.
In 2016, ACHI encouraged hospitals around the state to participate in the fitness challenge. Twenty facilities participated, competing against each other for regional and statewide awards given based upon the Blue & You Fitness Challenge measurements. The event was so successful that, in 2017, the challenge was extended to schools and school districts in Arkansas, and 20 hospitals once again participated.
This year, regional winners included Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute (Metro region), Baxter Regional Medical Center (North Central), St. Bernards Healthcare (Northeast), North Arkansas Regional Medical Center (Northwest), Baptist Health Medical Center-Stuttgart (Southeast), and Levi Hospital (Southwest). Overall winners included Baptist Health Medical Center-Heber Springs (small population), Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute (medium population), and Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway (large population).
These are all impressive and encouraging results, but we still have a long way to go. Trust for America’s Health reported that Arkansas is number one in physical inactivity – defined as “doing nothing” – among all states and is number three for adult obesity rates.
But if we all work together, with our hospitals leading the way in communities across the state, we can achieve monumental change in health and wellness for our citizens.
ACHI is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the improvement of health in the State of Arkansas. Working with public- and private-sector partners, ACHI is a catalyst for advancing the health of Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy and collaborative program development.
The above article is from the Fall 2017 edition of Arkansas Hospitals, a quarterly magazine published by the Arkansas Hospital Association. Vowell, Inc. produces Arkansas Hospitals on behalf of the Arkansas Hospital Association. This article is reprinted with permission.