Nevada embarks on mission of health

The City of Nevada is about to take the ‘health’ of this community to a whole new level.

A steering committee of 15 people – with representation from the City, Story Medical Center, Nevada Community Schools, senior residents, Nevada Economic Development, Main Street Nevada, and Story County — is set to have its first meeting next week.

City Councilwoman Sandy Ehrig got the ball rolling this year. But, getting Nevada involved in Healthy Hometown Powered by Wellmark, she noted, didn’t start with her.

Nate Thompson, CEO of Story Medical Center in Nevada, first discussed the idea with Jim Cushing, Community Health Manager for Wellmark, in 2019.

Discussions didn’t get far last year because Nevada’s leaders were focused on their successful bid to become a Main Street community.

This year, Ehrig, through her work as Chair of the Iowa Rural Development Council, was in a meeting with Cushing, which led to renewed talk about the Healthy Hometown program for Nevada. 

“As a newly elected city council member, I thought this would be a program for the City to look at along with other stakeholders in the community,” Ehrig said.

What is Healthy Hometown?

The short answer: It’s an initiative to make your hometown a better place to live.

Expanding on the short answer, Healthy Hometown looks at three principles or values:

  1. Useful Built Environments – having surroundings that support and encourage physical activity (e.g., sidewalks, walking and biking paths and trails, safe street crossings and intersections, traffic calming measures)
  2. Behavioral Economics Principles – creating an environment that presents better choices and gently nudges decision making (e.g., healthy food options, healthy vending options at eye level, easy access to a place to work out). Making the healthy choice, the easy choice.
  3. Positive Policy Changes – developing and enforcing policies that ensure positive, sustainable change (e.g., nicotine-free policy, healthy food at meetings policy)

There are also three strategies at work with Healthy Hometown.

  1. Eat Well
  2. Move More
  3. Feel Better

The first two strategies are self-explanatory. The third, “Feel Better,” looks at increasing social connectedness, which in this time of Covid-19, may become one of the most critical health needs. “Feel Better” also looks at tobacco and nicotine prevention/cessation and improved individual health behaviors.

Helping Nevada get started with the Healthy Hometown process will be Aaron Swanson, who has been working as a Wellmark Community Health Manager since the program started in 2016.

“My role in Healthy Hometown is to facilitate a process to help a community prioritize projects that improve the overall health and wellbeing of its residents, leading to the creation of a ‘master plan,’” Swanson said.

Swanson explained that out of the 15-person steering committee, “action planning” committees will be formed to plan and carry out the selected tactics. The steering committee will track those plans and health goals while identifying new tactics the community might employ.

Ehrig believes that being part of Healthy Hometown is an excellent way for Nevada to get outside validation and advice. “Nevada has a lot of physical improvement projects underway that will benefit from a deeper look at how we are impacting and promoting long-range healthy living,” she said.

One such project will be the pedestrian path that will be part of the Highway 30 overpass and street connecting S-14 and Sixth Street. That path/trail will link to the city’s existing trail structure.

Swanson is excited to have Nevada on board for Healthy Hometown. “What excites me most is seeing a community work together and make lasting, sustainable changes to create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice for generations to come.”

–Written by Marlys Barker, City of Nevada

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