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County aims for a Healthier Allegheny

| Wednesday, June 24, 2015, 3:56 a.m.
Patrick Cloonan | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker discusses the Plan for a Healthier Allegheny with Michele Tedder, a nurse and wellness coordinator developing a health and wellness center for Reach Up Inc. at Union Baptist Church in Swissvale, at a public meeting Tuesday at Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead.
Patrick Cloonan | Trib Total Media
At Tuesday's public meeting at Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead, Tammy Smith (right), a prevention education specialist for Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, discusses the Plan for a Healthier Allegheny with (from left) Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank nutrition educator Justine Barr, Prevention Point Pittsburgh director of operations Aaron Arnold and Laken Ethun, an intern at Prevention Point Pittsburgh studying for her master's degree in public health at the University of Pittsburgh.
Patrick Cloonan | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker discusses the Plan for a Healthier Allegheny at a public meeting Tuesday at Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead.
Patrick Cloonan | Trib Total Media
Vendors represented a variety of agencies at a public meeting Tuesday at Allegheny Intermediate Unit on behalf of the Allegheny County Health Department Plan for a Healthier Allegheny.

Allegheny County Health Department wants everyone to work toward a healthier county.

At an open house Tuesday at Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead, the department touted its Plan for a Healthier Allegheny.

“We want to be the healthiest large county in the nation,” department director Dr. Karen Hacker said.

A 200-page report posted on the website says the theme is “Our Health, Our Voice.”

It is the product of a process that included 14 community meetings last year, and 1,000 responses to an online survey and community needs assessments conducted by 15 nonprofit hospitals.

“It is a guide for health improvement for the next three to five years that will require multiple partners and a strong commitment from our advisory coalition and county residents,” Hacker and county board of health chairman Dr. Lee Harrison said in the report.

The advisory coalition has more than 70 organizations, including the AIU, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, Jefferson Regional Foundation in Jefferson Hills and Steel Valley Council of Governments in Homestead.

Other coalition partners are Allegheny and UPMC hospital networks, educators such as Community College of Allegheny County, businesses such as Giant Eagle and U.S. Steel and special interests such as Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, Tobacco Free Allegheny and Group Against Smog and Pollution.

In a two-hour session that was part health fair, part public meeting, Hacker said five critical priority areas had been identified, with objectives, metrics and actionable strategies to help achieve improved health outcomes for the county.

The county health department wants to promote access to health care, insurance and transportation to health care facilities.

Hacker hailed Gov. Tom Wolf's effort to establish a state-based health insurance marketplace that would replace the federal marketplace, which could be declared unconstitutional in a pending Supreme Court decision.

Then the department wants to provide access to resources and opportunities to reduce chronic disease health risk behaviors such as obesity, poor nutrition, inactivity and tobacco use.

Third on the list of critical priority areas is environment, with a focus on air quality, unconventional oil and gas production, aka fracking, and overall water quality.

Fourth is a focus on maternal and child health, with an aim to reducing morbidity and mortality and improving the health and quality of life for women, infants, children, caretakers and their families.

Fifth is a focus on mental health and substance use disorders, to reduce problems with depression, drugs and alcohol and integrate mental health efforts into ones aimed at improving physical health.

The county's plan is tied in to its Live Well Allegheny campaign to improve the health and well-being of county residents through a collaboration that involves multiple stakeholders, partners and residents, including Clairton Public Library, Duquesne City School District and Pleasant Hills Public Library.

“A lot of the activities we're planning are in line with Live Well Allegheny's initiative,” said Michele Tedder, wellness coordinator for Reach Up Inc., a ministry of Union Baptist Church in Swissvale that is developing a health and wellness center.

The health department open houses began Monday in Castle Shannon, and will continue July 7 at the Baierl Family YMCA in Sewickley and July 27 at the Thelma Lovette YMCA in Pittsburgh's Hill District.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or

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