Working together to prevent chronic disease

To the editor:

A comprehensive, community approach to chronic disease prevention not only improves health outcomes — it staves off health problems before they occur.

That belief is the foundation of the new North Country Chronic Disease Prevention Coalition, which held its first meeting with 14 partners in February. Led by the North Country Healthy Heart Network, the coalition is funded by a grant from the New York State Office of Rural Health’s Rural Health Network. Collectively, we work with primary care providers to increase identification of people at risk for prediabetes and connect them with community-based programs and services that can help them get and stay healthy. We also aim to establish evidence-based programs in communities where such services are lacking.

The early stages of our coalition are focused on structure and education. We’ve formed four work groups, each tasked with implementing one of the Centers for Disease Control’s four domains of chronic disease prevention: epidemiology and surveillance, environmental interventions, health care system interventions, and community programs linked to clinical services.

What does this all mean? In layman’s terms, the work groups will team with providers to collect data that helps identify people at risk for prediabetes, track progress on the patients to learn what works and what doesn’t, and then create links between providers and community health programs that can help them stay on the right track.

This work is grounded in the success of the Moving Forward Together (MFT) to Prevent Diabetes program, a joint effort of the Heart Network and Adirondack Health. This program demonstrated the power of using data and community programs to slow and stop prediabetic symptoms. The program continues at Adirondack Health today thanks to a grant from the Adirondack Health Institute.

There’s a lot of work to do to replicate programs like MFT across the region. The first step for the Heart Network is to provide technical assistance to hospitals and providers — to help them use electronic health records to look for the red flags of prediabetes. The next steps will be to provide clinicians with community resources that they can refer patients to — the Heart Network and its partners can publicize such programs, but we believe the most effective links are the providers themselves.

The phrase “prevention is the best medicine” may sound cliche, but we believe it’s true. No matter how you feel about the politics of health care, the reality is that preventive measures save lives and money. That’s what our coalition is all about, and we hope you’ll join us in this work — it takes a whole community to build the foundations for better health. To learn more, visit www.heartnetwork.org or send me an email at rellis@heartnetwork.org. We look forward to sharing more news about our coalition soon.

Randall Ellis

Program manager

North Country Chronic Disease Prevention Coalition

North Country Healthy Heart Network

Saranac Lake

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