Alliance Aims To Promote Healthy Living in Cuyahoga County

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Cuyahoga County lags behind much of the state and the nation in controlling chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, says County Executive Ed FitzGerald. And so he's creating what will be known as the County health alliance. It's not a government run program, he says, but rather a partnership between the county, cities and towns, health institutions and other non-profit groups and foundations to make healthy living more attractive and attainable.

FITZGERALD: "We're going to have to use reason and persuasion and also provide resources so that individual communities can then adopt what we hope are progressive and healthy policies and have them filter out into their own individual communities."

The alliance will begin as a pilot in ten select cities and - hopefully, FitzGerald says - expand to all 58 of the county's local communities.

FITZGERALD: "We want to establish what an ambitious goal of being not just the county that has the greatest health care institutions but actually is the healthiest county in the country.

The county is drawing on the expertise of Ron Simms, a former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and former Executive of King County in Washington State, which has instituted a similar initiative with some success. Simms, says the idea is to foster a culture that values good health, and that eventually feeds on itself and grows.

SIMMS: "Most chronic illnesses today are avoidable if a community makes a concerted effort to care. But it's not just going to be the health care professionals. It's going to be the businesses, the elected officials, faith based community, the people that deal with young people, the people that deal with the homeless. That's where the difference is. It's local."

County Executive FitzGerald says there will be limited funding from the county board of health, and from some of the other partners. But much of the effort will come in the form of staff assistance in helping communities create their own programs and policies - which can include anything from smoking restrictions to community fitness events and healthy eating education.

The first phase of the county health alliance will start up in the spring.

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