Fairview and community partners launch ‘Health UP’ in Forest Lake

How do you improve the health of a community? If you’re Kathy Bystrom, you gather key partners, do careful planning for more than a year then launch Health UP—an innovative, community-based health and well-being initiative.

Health UP uses four basic themes—eat, play, move and connect—to support residents of Forest Lake and the surrounding school district in making healthy lifestyle decisions.

Making the healthy choice the ‘easy choice’

“We want to structure our community in such as way that it encourages health and well-being,” says Kathy, manager of Community Health Outreach at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minn. “Our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Health UP’s initial projects include:

  • Launching the Health UP website (healthupfl.org) with information, ideas and resources related to the themes of eat, move, play and connect
  • Creating a worksite wellness initiative that helps local employers start employee wellness programs or enhance existing ones
  • Working with interested local restaurants to help them add healthy options to their menus with assistance from a Fairview nutritionist

Health UP had its kickoff at Forest Lake’s annual Lake Fest celebration in late May.

Based on local health needs

Health UP grew directly out of the findings from Fairview Lakes Medical Center’s 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), which found that obesity and related chronic diseases (such as diabetes and heart diseases)—along with behavioral health issues (including depression and chemical dependency)—were top local health concerns.

Support for the first year’s work came from donors to Fairview Foundation’s Greatest Needs Fund, which provided $30,000 in start-up funding.

Health UP organizers hope to receive some additional funding from the local health department through the Statewide Health Improvement Program.

Organizers continue to refine the Year One work and make plans for Year Two initiatives, which tentatively include:

  • Improving access to healthy foods for underserved populations through partnerships with local food shelves and grocery stores
  • Increasing access to free or low-cost physical activities and exercise classes
  • Working with local faith communities to help people living in isolation feel more supported
  • Starting a screen time reduction initiative in the local schools

A broad community partnership

In February 2013, Kathy convened a core planning team to talk about how to improve community health.

That core planning team is made up of city officials—including the mayor—as well as school district leaders, county public health officials, local business people and health care providers.

“I think it’s a unique partnership that represents leadership from a very broad group of organizations and businesses within our community,” says Chris Johnson, mayor of Forest Lake.

“This is a very positive community health initiative that’s helped develop better partnerships among the organizations, making them more strategic and effective—so that it’s easier for people who want to ‘health up’ any aspect of their lives to do so.”

Four simple, clear themes

Linda Madsen, superintendent of Forest Lake Area Schools, credits Kathy with being “the driving force to get us started and pull us together.”

She thinks the simplicity of the four themes will help it catch on.

“‘Eat, move, play, connect’ helps keep it in your mind, but it’s not confusing or overwhelming—I think that’s the beauty of it,” she says.

The core planning team has been discussing how best to measure and evaluate programs within Health UP to determine what impact they’re having on community health and well-being.

“We’re looking at this as creating some long-term changes,” says Kathy. “Having these key stakeholders involved at this level really opens doors for us to get meaningful and measurable work done.”

A model that can be replicated

Although Health UP is geared toward Forest Lake, Kathy says they’ve tried to create a model that could be replicated in other communities.

Sharna Braucks, executive director of the Y in Lino Lakes and a core planning team member, says Health UP focuses not just on physical health, but also on social and emotional health.

“We’re looking at the whole person,” she says.

“Everyone has had such a positive reaction—I know we’re creating something great.”

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