New position focuses on healthy lifestyles

GREENFIELD — Hancock Regional Hospital wants Hancock County to be healthier, and its leaders have tapped someone to ignite discussions in the county about how to make healthy living easier for local residents.

The hospital recently created the position of healthy communities coordinator, and longtime Hancock County resident Danielle Daugherty will fill the post.

Daugherty is tasked with finding ways to make healthy choices the easiest and most readily available options to Hancock County residents, for example, selecting healthy food options at grocery stores or restaurants and taking advantage of readily available recreational activities, said Daugherty, former director of local educational nonprofit Leaders in Navigating Knowledge.

Daugherty will work to build relationships within the community to help the hospital better understand what health initiatives are already offered here through local governments, businesses, churches and nonprofit groups, and she’ll then work to fill any gaps with new programs.  

Dedicating a position focused on community wellness reflects a shift in healthcare across the country to promote healthy living before a person becomes a patient, Chief Operating Officer Rob Matt said.

It’s a notion the healthcare industry refers to as population health, Matt explained; it is a concept that looks to improve the overall health of a group of people — whether it’s a business, school, an entire socioeconomic group or all the residents of a town or city.

The hospital’s initiative to explore ways to make county residents healthier stems from a 2004 study that identified five pockets of the world where people lived longer — reaching age 100 at 10 times the average rate — and examined the science behind that longevity.

National Geographic, which led the study, dubbed those areas “blue zones.” Today, a company by the same name offers to help community leaders replicate those healthier lifestyles in area residents — for a price tag of $3 million, Matt said. 

“Well, we didn’t have $3 million,” he said with a laugh. “But we’re taking that concept and applying it here. … We want to be the healthiest community.”

As she begins her work, Daugherty will follow guidelines created by the Wellness Council of Indiana, which works to promote healthy habits among Hoosiers, she said.

The hope that Hancock County will one day meet all the the state’s wellness council’s guidelines to be labeled an Indiana Healthy Community, she said — something no other county in the state has been able to achieve.

According to the Indiana Wellness Council’s website, a community must address dozens of health policies that stretch beyond healthy food and nutrition and include vending machine policies, smoking policies and community engagement. At least 15 companies representing 20 percent of the community’s workforce must be recognized by a healthy workplace before the area is awarded the title, the website states.

Hospital CEO Steve Long said in a statement that Daugherty’s “insight, drive, determination, background and local connections” will play a big part in making the initiative successful.

Daugherty’s new role falls within the Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation, said executive director Nancy Davis.

Each year, the Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation identifies what roles it can play to help move the hospital into the future, and the increased work toward wellness within the community was a perfect match, Davis said. With Daugherty leading the way, the foundation will help building the hospital’s connectivity and make people aware of the new initiative.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.