Pitching horseshoes and ideas
WORTHINGTON — As part of the statewide “Pitch the Commissioner” event series, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger stopped in Worthington Tuesday to discuss how public health can be improved in the community and region.
“The whole idea of these Pitch the Commissioner events is to go around and find out what’s working in communities and what communities need in order to be healthy,” Ehlinger said.
Ehlinger described Worthington as the “epicenter” of the changes occurring statewide — specifically with its increasing diversity — during his presentation.
“The diversity is quite high in this community, so we’re looking to you as a model,” Ehlinger said.
Minnesota is currently ranked as the third healthiest state in the nation. However, Ehlinger stated that unless the state addresses its disparities in health care between races, Minnesota will fall behind.
“The black and white difference in infant mortality is the greatest in the country,” Ehlinger explained. “Teen pregnancy rates between different populations of color — Native Americans and whites are the greatest — and basically, if you look at any disease factor, there are racial differences.
“Unless we deal with our disparities, we will not be able to maintain ranking as one of the healthiest states. We have to deal with these disparities.”
The commissioner explained that Minnesotans should focus not only on medical care, but also invest more in social services and the public health side.
“I think we’re probably spending the right amount on health and human services,” he said. “We’re just one of the few countries that spend way over 50 percent of our total health services dollars on medical care, and places that spend over 50 percent on just medical care have poor health outcomes. So we have to re-balance those dollars.
“We just need to change the conversation on about what creates health, which is about community involvement and engagement,” Ehlinger added.
The commissioner said one of his goals for the state is to have commissioners in different departments of government make changes in their areas with a “health lens.”
“We’re having that health-in-all policies approach,” he said. “That’s why this past week I met with all the commissioners from all the different departments at state government to say, “You have a role in creating health.’”
Ehlinger described the ripple effect other departments have on statewide health.
“So, Charlie Zelle in the department of transportation (for example) — what you do with your roads, bridges and public transportation really makes a difference for health,” he said. “Since then, he does think about his projects and health. If we have public transportation, that decreases the obesity rates by people walking to and from stations.
“Tom Landwehr, the commissioner of natural resources, realized that if people are healthier, the more they will be using the parks, bike trails and walking trails,” he continued.
Ehlinger urged the public to pitch ideas not only to him but to other commissioners as well, as they all can benefit public health.
“If they (commissioners) do their job with a health lens, everybody will do better,” he added.
Following the presentation, the commissioner opened the floor up to the public for any comments or questions about health in the community.
District 518 Board of Education Chairman Linden Olson spoke of the high number of students who receive free or reduced priced lunch — not only in Worthington but the surrounding area.
“There’s a lot of concern that between Friday night and Monday morning, these students’ nutrition is lacking,” Olson stated.
Olson asked what the Department of Health can do to support backpack programs, which give children in need meals to take home over the weekend.
“Nutrition is an important piece,” Ehlinger replied. “We’re certainly talking about this particular program as well as others like it to see if we can fund some of those things on a regular basis.”
It was then time to throw some horseshoes and continue the one-on-one discussion of health in the community. Ehlinger said he chose pitching horseshoes because it is a physical activity that anyone at any age can get involved in.
Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.