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SHIP grant leads to new educator, initiatives

DeTasha Place (left) and Susan Vileta will work to implement Statewide Health Improvement Plan initiatives in Nobles, Cottonwood and Jackson counties. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — A partnership between Cottonwood, Jackson and Nobles County public health agencies has resulted in a new local health educator position focusing on the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) initiatives.

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DeTasha Place began her new role on Wednesday, and while she will be housed in the Nobles County Public Health office in Worthington, she will work with health care programs in the three-county area. Assisting her in the role are Susan Vileta, SHIP coordinator, and Diana Madsen, a SHIP health educator in Cottonwood County.

“We see it as a team focus between the three of us,” said Vileta.

With Place’s background (she graduated from South Dakota State University in Brookings with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and spent nearly the past three years as a registered nurse in the Women’s Center at Sanford Worthington Medical Center), along with Vileta’s five-year history with public health and Madsen’s experience in community work, they each have different roles moving forward.

Funded by a $402,163 Minnesota Department of Health grant through October 2015, the goal of the SHIP program will be to increase physical activity at all age levels, from preschoolers through the elderly, to improve healthy eating in the school, workplace and home, and to reduce tobacco use.

Vileta said the program will look at the types of snacks and drinks in vending machines to access to trails and fitness facilities.

“Worksites and schools — we spend a lot of time at those places,” she said. “They have a big influence on us in terms of our health habits.

“The reason why SHIP has come about is because tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor nutrition habits are the three leading causes of disease in this country, and in turn, what costs the most to us as taxpayers and in the health care system,” said Terri Janssen, Nobles County Community Health Services administrator.

“We would know we were successful down the road if we saw tobacco use and exposure decrease, obesity decreasing, diabetes decreasing (along with) heart disease, stroke and cancer,” said Vileta. “Those are the grand goals where (if we see this happening) we could go, ‘Wow. We’ve made an impact.’”

The SHIP grant will focus specifically on the area between Oxford Street and Interstate 90, Humiston to McMillan avenues in Worthington.

“We’re looking at making it easier for bikers and walking traffic to get to that area,” Vileta said. “It’s one of the most high-traffic areas of our community, and there are really no sidewalks or trails for people to get to those areas safely.”

There is potential with the grant to also purchase a plow or a broom to clear off trails in all three counties so they can be utilized year-round.

“We’re researching the parameters of the grant for buying equipment and big-cost items,” Vileta said.

Guided by a 15-member leadership team that includes county commissioners, business and health care professionals and University of Minnesota Extension, the local SHIP program continues to build partnerships with school districts, businesses and organizations such as the YMCA.

Place said her role with the SHIP initiative will be to conduct screenings and referrals, promote breastfeeding, discuss prevention-focused projects with physicians and reduce health care disparities by providing access to programs regardless of socio-economic status.

“I’ll also help Diana with some of our school sites,” she said. “Some of them are working on bringing healthier food choices in the school, whether it’s meals or vending machine choices and healthy snack carts. They’re also bringing more physical activity into the kids’ day, and some are working on specific curriculums for their phy-ed department.”

The hope is that by developing partnerships in each of the three counties, the initiatives will be sustaining after the grant is completed.

“The state has recognized when you involve partners at the local level that … have a stake in making their community a healthier place, those are lasting changes,” Vileta said.

“We want to make sure these things come about and are successful,” added Place.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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