The statistics weren't good — they weren't awful, but clearly there were opportunities to improve. In looking at the overall health of western Wisconsin, we discovered a serious misalignment between people's health and their desire for health and management of chronic disease.

Motivating the Community

Results of a recent community health needs assessment conducted on behalf of Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph's Hospital in Chippewa Falls revealed high levels of chronic disease, cancer, obesity and poor health behaviors among residents in our 12-county service area. On the flip side, the assessment also revealed one of the top health priorities to be chronic disease management and prevention. It was clear that our hospitals had to step up to address this disconnect and provide guidance and resources to make disease management and prevention a reality.

Long before population health became part of our everyday vernacular through the Affordable Care Act, our hospitals have focused on providing quality care to patients when they are acutely ill or injured along with promoting health and wellness. However, the results of the health needs assessment unmistakably confirmed that we needed to do far more than promote health and wellness.

What the community needed most was a catalyst to motivate them to lead healthier lives. While many people know what they should do to lead a healthy lifestyle, they lack the time, motivation and means to make it happen.

Sacred Heart Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital were committed to helping the community become and stay healthy by making it a priority. In late 2012, the hospitals launched GO Chippewa Valley, a community wellness initiative. The call to action for GO Chippewa Valley is intentionally very simple — get up and move for at least 15 minutes a day. Residents were invited to start living more, doing more and having fun by finding something they like to do — walk, bike, run or dance — and committing to move 15 minutes per day.

Seeking Sustained Commitment

To change the mindset of the community and inspire a change in behavior, we knew three factors would be critical for sustained success:

Offer a solution that is relevant to everyone in the community we serve. While we seek to reduce the prevalence of obesity in our community, the efforts on the part of Sacred Heart Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital had to be relevant to all residents in our community. Regardless of the number on the scale, everyone benefits from information about healthful eating and exercise, and tools to make positive lifestyle changes.

Embody our commitment to provide exceptional care, centered on the whole person, to improve health. Our primary goal is to care for the whole person — physical, spiritual, psychological and social. Through the GO initiative, we are assisting the community in developing a more healthful lifestyle that will improve overall health and well-being and lower the risk of developing numerous types of cancer.

Keep it simple. To inspire action in a way that seeks sustained commitment, the solution had to be simple. Encouraging people to increase their level of activity had to be realistic. Asking for a commitment of 15 minutes of activity per day is just that: realistic. Studies have shown that getting an average of 15 minutes of physical activity per day can improve health and reduce the risk of cancers.  

Promoting the Goals

To raise awareness about GO Chippewa Valley and to encourage people of all ages to join in on the effort, we launched an advertising campaign with direct mail and television, print and digital ads, and we promoted the initiative at wellness fairs and fitness events, such as community walks.

An online health tool, GO myWay, was introduced in the fall of 2013. This health portal offers meal planning tips and exercise demos. Additionally, participants can track their progress, join groups, sign up for classes and even challenge one another. As part of the GO myWay launch, we challenged members to complete 15 minutes of exercise each day and log their activity online for 30 days. A winner, chosen at random among the people who recorded at least 15 minutes of exercise daily, received a gift certificate to a local sporting goods store.

In addition to GO Chippewa Valley, we've expanded our efforts to improve the health of our community by hosting a variety of health education programs. One such program, the Metabolic Syndrome Series, addresses living with and managing chronic illnesses. Average attendance at each educational session is approximately 150 people. A new series of health education events, called Live Well, will be introduced in January 2015.

Reaping the Rewards

While we always have considered it our responsibility to move beyond the walls of our hospital to improve the health of the community we serve, the results of the community health needs assessment confirmed the necessity to elevate our efforts. We needed to rouse people, to inspire action to improve their health for the long term.

The efforts of the GO Chippewa Valley initiative are working. According to the 2014 County Health Rankings and Roadmap from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which ranks the health of states by county across the country, Eau Claire County advanced several levels in the "healthiest counties" of Wisconsin ranking. Additionally, Eau Claire County is number 12 in the health outcomes category for Wisconsin, up from number 17 in 2013. This measure evaluates health behaviors, such as tobacco use, diet and exercise, and alcohol and drug use.

At this point, more than 1,000 residents are registered GO myWay online members. They're logging their time, getting moving and losing weight.

The accountability for the health of our community is a drastic change to our current model of health care delivery, which centers on treatment of illness and injury with some focus on wellness. But, it's absolutely how it should be. We will continue to expand services and outreach to improve the health of our community through a focus on population health management — not because it is a mandate from the government, but because it is the right thing to do.  

Julie Manas is the president of the Western Division of Hospital Sisters Health System and the president and CEO of HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wis.