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Progress report shows SHIP makes a positive difference

Due to the efforts of Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program, more than 140,000 students in more than 200 schools now have more opportunities to walk to school, and more than 160,000 employees in more than 900 businesses are benefiting from work place wellness programs, the Minnesota Department of Health announced recently.

Since 2009, the Statewide Health Improvement Program, or SHIP, has offered local public health agencies and tribal governments grants to pursue the health improvement strategies most needed in their area.

For example, in the Perham-Dent School District, these efforts include having developed an apple and blueberry orchard.

“The orchard is full of so much potential from kids eating fresh fruits, students and adults learning about horticulture, students learning the value of community service, to an outdoor laboratory for nurseries to learn how different varieties of fruit trees produce in our region”, states Trish McCellan, school wellness coordinator.

When fully mature, the orchard will yield a minimum of 160 bushels of apples and 240 pounds of blueberries annually. This is an estimated $10,140 annual gift to the district.

“This is just one example of the health improvement efforts going on in our community,” adds Jason Bergstrand, communications and strategy specialist for PartnerSHIP 4 Health. “Across the county, more kids are getting healthy foods, families are exposed to less tobacco smoke, and more people can get the physical activity they need.”

Recent data show Minnesota now spends almost $7,000 per capita each year on health care. SHIP focuses on root causes of poor health, such as a lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use, the leading drivers of rising health care costs in the state.

“Communities across the state are recognizing the need to take a community-wide approach to combating obesity and tobacco use – two of the biggest factors pushing up health care costs,” Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said. “Healthy living isn’t just an issue for the health department or local clinics, it is an issue that all parts of the community need to address.”

On Feb. 27, Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Program released its third-year progress report. The report found that, though SHIP entered its third year a much smaller program than intended because of budget cuts, it made significant progress toward its goals by partnering with hundreds of schools, clinics and workplaces across the state.

After receiving $47 million in its first two years, SHIP received a 70 percent cut to $15 million for fiscal years 2012-13. It is now providing community grants to just over half the state. For fiscal years 2014-15, Governor Mark Dayton has proposed a $40 million budget for SHIP that would again make the program statewide.

For the 2012-2013 fiscal years, PartnerSHIP 4 Health (Becker, Clay, Otter Tail and Wilkin Counties) received $858,543.12 for local health improvement efforts, or $5.52 per each of the 155,382 residents in the four counties.

SHIP puts Minnesota at the center of a community-wellness movement. At its core, the concept involves supporting individuals’ healthy choices by making those choices easier. For example, encouraging people to get outside and walk more becomes easier in a community with good sidewalks. Encouraging people to eat healthier becomes easier when people have easy access to fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables.

Evidence shows that in addition to providing better health for individuals, these changes can help reduce health care costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

“A key goal of the health department is to return SHIP to a statewide program and make sure that all communities in the state, not just a few successful test cases or early adopters, can benefit from a healthy-community approach,” said Commissioner Ehlinger.

In 2008, state policy makers recognized that in order to contain spiraling health care costs, investments in prevention were needed. With bipartisan support, Minnesota passed a groundbreaking health reform law that included SHIP. Two-year SHIP grants were awarded on July 1, 2009 to all 53 community health boards and nine of 11 tribal governments.