Governor Haslam launches program to make Tennesseans healthier

Governor Haslam launches program to make Tennesseans healthier

August 8th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announces the launch of a "Healthier Tennessee" program during a news conference Wednesday at the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee headquarters in Chattanooga. Rick Johnson, right, was also introduced as president and CEO of the newly-created Governor's Foundation for Health and Wellness. Bill Gracey, left, CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, introduced Haslam at the event.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

The Governor’s Foundation For Health and Wellness board of directors includes:

Rick Johnson, CEO of the foundation

Mark Cate, Chief of Staff, Governor’s Office

Larry Martin, Tenn. Interim Commissioner of Finance & Administration

Bill Gracey, CEO, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

R. Clayton McWhorter, Founder and Chairman, Clayton Associates

Perry Stuckey III, Senior VP, Eastman Chemical Company

Judith Edge, Corporate VP of Human Resources, FedEx Corporation

William Carpenter, CEO, LifePoint Hospitals

Jamie Woodson, CEO, State Collaborative on Reforming Education (S.C.O.R.E.)

Reginald Coopwood, CEO, The Regional Medical Center at Memphis

Wright Pinson, MD, CEO, Vanderbilt Health System

Tennessee has received yet another poor health diagnosis.

While childhood obesity rates across the nation have gone down, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that Tennessee is one of just a handful of states where the epidemic has grown.

Gov. Bill Haslam said the latest statistical report is disheartening.

“Loving something doesn’t mean you can’t recognize its faults,” he said. “In Tennessee, we’re not nearly as healthy as we should be. We’re somewhere around 40 when it comes to the 50 states.”

He’s hoping a new statewide initiative will start bumping up that number.

The new plan, called “Healthier Tennessee,” touts conventional strategies to tackle the state’s entrenched health problems: Exercise 30 minutes five days a week; replace high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables; and snuff out cigarette smoking.

“It’d be easy to be cynical about this, to say, ‘Oh great it’s another healthy effort,’ and we’ve seen a lot of those come and go,” Haslam said. “Well, it’s different here.”

The governor said the program has been more intentional to create a coalition of big employers, schools, hospitals, insurers, faith-based groups and community centers. He also said the program will more closely track awareness, involvement and changes in behavior.

Haslam outlined the initiative in Chattanooga on Wednesday at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, one of several stops he is making on a statewide jaunt to promote the program.

BlueCross CEO Bill Gracey called the initiative an “organized, comprehensive plan to raise the health status of this great state.”

Specifics on how the plan will actually manifest itself to the average Tennessean are still unclear.

People may start seeing more programs pop up at their workplaces, schools, community centers or places of worship.

“Healthier Tennessee” will also include a “rewards-and-recognition” program for participants, which will range from “opportunities for competition,” to awards from the governor and a certification program for schools, workplaces and community centers.

The governor did not specify what such awards or certifications would be.

A new Nashville-based nonprofit corporation, called the Governor’s Foundation For Health and Wellness, will direct the initiative over the long term.

The foundation, led by former special assistant and Knoxville health care executive Rick Johnson, has been funded with $6.2 million in state money — $5 million of which comes from tobacco settlements, said Johnson — and even more from private corporations.

“Ultimately, my job is to determine if the initiative is successful,” Johnson explained in a statement. “This means deriving metrics that are relatively easy to measure and developing a mechanism to monitor progress.”

The state spends $6 billion dollars a year treating behavior-based disease, Johnson said, a number that the foundation will start watching more closely.

<em>Contact Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.</em>