Population Health Summit highlights community health initiatives

By Briana Vannozzi

There’s a big shift happening in health care and it’s taking place outside the walls of a clinician’s office, at farmers markets and corner stores.
And today a few hundred community leaders got together to discuss it at a population health summit in Lawrenceville.

“To focus on what we can do to keep people that are healthy well, to take those that are at risk for chronic disease and give them the tools and education they need to prevent that risk from happening, and for those that have chronic conditions to better manage those conditions so they’re living the life they want in their communities,” said NJ Department of Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett.

Initiatives like mobile health vans, or bringing cancer screenings to beaches and educating people on sun safety.

“Since that time we’ve screened nearly 14,000 people. Over 800 people have had a presumptive diagnosis of skin cancer,” said Debra Levinson, regional director of Ocean Monmouth Health Alliance.

With more than 130 cases of melanoma detected, it’s about bringing care to communities.

“Cumberland County is one of the more financially challenged counties in the state of New Jersey, so we have to look for all the resources and look toward our private businesses to help us to help move that needle,” said Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly.

So Kelly joined the Live Healthy Cumberland County campaign with a corner store partnership.

“The whole idea of that is to have the corner stores stock healthy fruits and vegetables. Instead of sodas and potato chips, we’re having healthy items,” said Kelly.

In Camden, school nurses realized city residents were using the emergency department for care 85 percent more than county residents.

“So we went to the experts, the parents, and for some reason it seemed like parents were being kept out of the decision making about their care. We’re kind of in this cog of this health care maze and some of my parents, truthfully, are undocumented, they don’t ask a lot of questions, there’s language barriers so the fact that we set aside time to really ask them made it very successful,” said Robin Cogan, Camden City Schools nurse.

RWJBarnabas and Jersey City Medical Center designed a wealth from health program that helped incentivize healthy behaviors for over 3,000 patients. In this case, providing discounts to more than 100 businesses like restaurants and gyms.

If give people those incentives and they are more likely to take them?

“Absolutely. If I just tell you what to do and I’ve been a doctor for many many years you’ll nod your head, you probably won’t understand it all completely, you’ll go home, your family will say what did the doctors say and there will be some interpretation of what I thought I said. But if I say to you, ‘how do you think together you and I can get to where you need to be?’ and you have some of the solutions, I support that,” said Susan Walsh, vice president of population health at Jersey City Medical Center.

As one of the experts put it to me today, population health should be a societal goal. So all of the participants here today will take bits and pieces of what they learned back with them to create more partnerships and hopefully more solutions.