In the last three years, Putnam County, Missouri has instituted policy changes that have increased the health of its 5,000 citizens. Using 6 Steps to Community Change, they rose from 74 to 25 in the County Health Rankings with the help of a new livable streets policy and effective joint use agreements.
Public health research shows that policy change is one of the best ways to achieve equitable, long-term health improvements. While program funding may come and go, good policies have a way of ensuring a community stays on the right track.
Establishing a need for change can be one of the biggest hurdles, however. Putnam County used tools like a walkability audit to help them establish the need for change and inform citizens on the benefits.
They also hosted a Livable Streets Community Forum to facilitate conversation between community and city council members as well as develop a branding campaign to share the vision. “We did a lot of community education about what livable streets are,” said Ericka Klingner, Administrator of the Putnam County Health Department. “This was a foreign concept to a lot of people.”
In November, 2012 the City of Unionville passed their Livable Streets policy that has made improving roads much easier. “Plans are underway for $217,000 worth of street improvements and we have not experienced any opposition on this project,” said Klingner.
Besides streets that made active transportation difficult, Putnam County also faced a shortage of recreation options. City parks were not very inviting, and there was a lack of good recreational facilities open for residents. Klingner and the local Putnam County Partners in Prevention did some research and decided that a joint use policy with the Putnam County School District was a way to create a win-win situation for everyone.
“We are very fortunate to have a school board and school faculty who knows the importance of physical activity,” wrote Klingner. “The school has several facilities that are open for the public. One of which is their Fitness Center. It is open 24 hours a day to all community members who would like to use it.” The school also allows county residents use of a new all-weather outdoor track.
The elementary school playground was also upgraded and included in the joint use agreement so that everyone was welcome during non-school hours.
The key to effective policies is to have clear roles and expectations. The joint use agreement between the Putnam County R-1 School District and the Putnam County Health Department clearly spells out why the agreement exists, what facilities are covered, permitted uses of the facilities, as well as maintenance and insurance obligations.
The result of this well-implemented five-year policy change is that Putnam County residents now have access to a complete weight and cardio gym for only $5 per year. “This kind of fitness center would cost way more in a city,” raves Heath Halley, Superintendant of Putnam County R-1 Schools. “I use the fitness center at least five days a week. The equipment is top of the line and the hours for usage are unbeatable.”
Want to find out more about how Putnam County is achieving real change? Read Six Steps to Community Change and stay tuned as we share how they redesigned the city parks using a community approach and brought about a 168% increase in the number of smoke-free businesses.
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