Eight state Departments — including six Christie Administration cabinet members — yesterday joined community partners in nutrition, health and wellness, social services, education, housing, transportation and the environment at New Jersey’s first Population Health Summit to strategize how to improve health in all policies.
“Given the diversity of issues that influence health, it is critical that we partner to build on each other’s efforts and the work of our stakeholders,” said Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett, who convened the summit. “Together we have identified nutrition and fitness and lead exposure in children as two key improvement areas.”
The Agriculture Secretary and Commissioners of Children and Families, Community Affairs, Environmental Protection and Human Services, along with the Assistant Commissioners of Education and Transportation, joined 150 leaders from academia, private foundations, health care, public health and community groups at the Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayreville to discuss strategies to improve population health among residents and communities.
“Collaboration among our partners results in a unified vision and allows for alignment of policies and programs,” Commissioner Bennett said. “The room was energized with enthusiasm to find new ways to work together on improving health outcomes.”
A population health video played during the summit explains the concept of keeping the well healthy, supporting those at risk for health problems and preventing those with chronic conditions from getting sicker. Population health promotes prevention, wellness and equity in all environments, resulting in a healthy New Jersey. It refocuses healthcare not only on the sick, but also on the well and aims to reduce personal, educational, social and economic costs associated with disease.
A broad array of programs contributes to population health, including state parks and recreation areas, Complete Streets, Safe Routes to School, Breakfast in the Classroom, farmer’s markets and supplemental nutrition program such as WIC and SNAP.
“From ensuring access to nutritious foods, bike trails in our parks and safe playgrounds for our children to play, to mixed-use developments that the Department of Community Affairs is creating, all of these elements power our state health improvement plan — Healthy New Jersey 2020,’’ Commissioner Bennett said.
Among those participating in the summit were the Advocates for Children of NJ, the Partnership for Healthy Kids, New Jersey Environmental Health Association, the NJ State School Nurses Association, New Jersey Future, the Food Trust, the Nicholson Foundation, the March of Dimes, the NJ Alliance of YMCAs, Rutgers Center for State Health Policy and Sustainable New Jersey at the College of New Jersey.
Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson; Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health; and Dr. Vincent Calamia, chief medical officer for United Healthcare Community Plan of New Jersey, participated in a roundtable on population health moderated by Colette Lamothe-Galette, Director of the New Jersey Office of Population Health. Panels focused on “Partnering to Improve Population Health,” “No Safe Level of Lead in Children” and “Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice,” a nutrition and fitness strategy emphasizing access to healthy foods and physical activity in schools and communities.
Over the last 20 years, the incidence of elevated blood levels in New Jersey children was nearly cut in half, even as 20 times more children were tested. The Department will continue working with its partners to decrease these numbers and educate parents about exposure risks.
This summer, members of the Governor's cabinet formed the Population Health Action Team to work on creating and advancing policies that build healthy communities and improve health outcomes.
“DEP will continue to support schools and other facilities to reduce levels of lead in the environment because there is no safe level in children,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “In addition, DEP continues to utilize multiple programs and facilities, including parks and open space, to get children and families outdoors.”
“The New Jersey Population Health Summit provided various departments within state government an opportunity to coordinate responses to health issues with an excellent array of policy-makers, service providers, and health professionals, and to develop a cohesive approach to health,” Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher said. “We look forward to working as part of this group to enhace Agriculture’s role in administering healthy school and community food programs, as well as promoting the consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetables."
“Participants in the summit showed just how focused this administration and its partners are in advancing wellness – through awareness – for the state’s residents,” said Elizabeth Connolly, Acting Commissioner for the Department of Human Services, which administers Medicaid and various programs and supports for people who are low-income, aging and/or living with disabilities. “Our physical and emotional health can directly be tied to what we eat and how much. Awareness of that alone can make a great impact on people’s food and nutrition choices.”
Children and Families Commissioner Alison Blake noted the Department’s Family Success Centers “help people lead healthy and vigorous lives.”
“The centers provide free nutrition, cooking, Zumba, and yoga classes,” she said. “By stepping into any one of more than 50 Family Success Centers throughout the state, residents can learn about health, wellness, and other important resources that can make a difference in their lives.”
“The Department of Community Affairs is already working to address two areas relevant to the Population Health Action Team including the launch of the Housing First Initiative. It provides housing to homeless, high-risk populations to ensure that along with rental assistance, program participants also get regular medical checkups and counseling,” DCA Commissioner Charles A. Richman said. “The Department has integrated supportive services, direct benefits, education and counseling into a number of the Department’s programs that benefit children and families. Through a new state-funded pilot program, the DCA will address the threat of childhood lead poisoning by funding public-private partnerships to identify and remediate lead-based paint hazards to prevent elevated blood lead levels in children and pregnant women.”
To learn more, visit the Department’s population health webpage or search #PopHealthNJ on social media.
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