Coalition tackles health-care issues

October 17, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville-Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness has named Barbara Jackman its executive director.

Jackman served as interim executive director until she was named to the permanent position by the coalition's board of directors following a regional search.

The coalition was created this spring in response to a 2003 health-risk factor survey by The Harvest Foundation. It was launched with a five-year $4.5 million Harvest Foundation grant and the goal of aiding medically underserved residents of the area.

Jackman said that since it was founded, the organization has gotten its tax-exempt status and has began working on specific programs and continued programs that grew out of the Healthy Community Initiative. It also is working with the MedAssist Program, which came under the umbrella of the coalition after it was founded.

"We've got several things that are in the works," Jackman said.

Through the Healthy Community Initiative, the coalition is providing fitness equipment, programming and nutrition information to after-school programs such as the Martinsville-Henry County Boys & Girls Club and YMCA programs.

"Our goal is that the kids become more fit," she said, and hopefully make more healthy eating choices over time.

With the exercise programs, the coalition tries to strike a balance between individual activities such as Dance Dance Revolution video games and team sports, such as floor hockey.

The coalition also recently received a grant from the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and is beginning a golf program for disadvantaged children.

"All the kids that are in it are kids that otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to learn about golf," she said, and the end of the program a tournament will be held for the children.

Jackman said the coalition provides the clubs and the PGA provides the golf pros.

Through its MedAssist medication assistance program, the coalition is trying to help seniors understand the confusing new options that are part of Medicare's prescription drug benefit, also known as Medicare Part D.

The new Medicare program largely leaves it up to Medicare recipients to sign up for the program, and they also are required to pick an insurance company out of a variety of choices and plans. Low-income Medicare recipients also have to sign up separately for assistance to help them pay for it.

"It's really the first time since Medicare came out in 1965 that this amount of change and complexity falls on the patient themselves," Jackman said, so education programs are necessary.

The MedAssist program is funded mainly through The Harvest Foundation, and also through a $74,500 annual Virginia Health Care Foundation grant. It has six Henry County and two Patrick County employees.

Jackman said that although the medicines are provided free by various pharmaceutical companies, the paperwork, forms and renewals would be difficult for an individual to track without the counseling and help from MedAssist.

The coalition also is concerned with chronic disease in the community, and this fall it will launch mobile screenings to identify diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and problems caused by obesity, she said.

Jackman said the mobile unit will try to target people who do not get regular screening and, when problems are detected, get them in programs such as its medication assistance program or other local programs. It also will provide education, such as nutrition information for people with diabetes.

Also, Jackman said, the coalition is concerned with having a healthier community overall by providing outdoor activities. That is why it has joined other groups in supporting the "Rails to Trails" program that plans to make walking trails out of unused railroad tracks, she said.

And by being a 501C3 tax-exempt organization, the coalition can pursue diverse sources of funding and partner with other local organizations to develop programs.

Jackman said the coalition's overall goal is two-fold. It creates and supports programs to help prevent chronic disease and it helps people find the primary care assistance they need.

Its method, however, is not to try and duplicate or replace other services and agencies already in place.

Instead, she said, it is intended to support and enhance existing programs and fill in the gaps where services are missing to create a more complete and seamless system and enable groups to be better coordinated.

The mission "is to be the central point for health and wellness in this community," Jackman said.


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