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Tanner Among Foster G. McGaw Finalists


West Georgia is becoming a healthier place to live — and organizations around the nation are taking notice.

Tanner Health System was among only four healthcare organizations in the nation named as a finalist for a prestigious recognition from the American Hospital Association (AHA). The Foster G. McGaw Prize recognizes healthcare organizations that are committed to community service through a range of programs that demonstrate a passion and continuous commitment to making communities healthier and more vital.

The prize, first awarded in 1986, inspires hospitals, health systems and communities to assess and implement programs that improve their communities, according to the AHA.

“We have hospitals that provide superior care, but we decided to apply that same approach to care that we give to the sick and injured to start at the grassroots to make this a healthier community,” said Daniel Jackson, chairman of the Tanner Medical Center Inc. Board of Directors and president and CEO of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Tomorrow. “We had a vision, then a dream, and now a reality. We have a health system that has partnered with the community to make this a healthier place to live.”

That vision — and reality — was Tanner’s Get Healthy, Live Well.

"As a community-based health system, Tanner has always worked to provide our neighbors with better access to quality health care," said Loy Howard, president and CEO of Tanner Health System. "We pay close attention to the needs of our community and we work to develop the programs and services they need."

What the region needs now, according to Howard, isn’t just treatment for conditions they have, but the education and empowerment to avoid and better control chronic conditions themselves.

"Get Healthy, Live Well has allowed us to truly be a one-stop healthcare destination, thanks to the contributions of the medical care providers, staff, partners and volunteers who are passionate about improving the community's health," Howard said. "It's rewarding to see the impact this initiative has had in building a culture of health while significantly increasing the quality of life for so many individuals.

"Being selected as a finalist is a testament to Tanner's dedication to not only provide exceptional health care at its facilities in west Georgia and east Alabama but go beyond the hospital walls to improve the health and wellbeing of the community at large," he said.

“In seven short years — with a very non-traditional approach for a hospital — we’ve made significant inroads toward building a culture of health in west Georgia,” said Denise Taylor, senior vice president and chief community health and brand officer for Tanner, who oversees the Get Healthy, Live Well initiative.

According to Taylor, in those seven years, Tanner’s programs and community health efforts have attracted more than $5.5 million in federal and private funding to the region to support community health initiatives.

“We believe our structure could be a model for other rural hospitals in the country because partnering and working alongside the community as we have at Tanner is the way you reach people and support them where they live, learn, work, play and pray,” said Taylor.

Get Healthy, Live Well has grown to feature 35 distinct community health task forces and 600 active volunteers.

Tanner had the opportunity to showcase the work that Get Healthy, Live Well has done during a site visit from representatives of the Foster G. McGaw Prize Committee, who visited Carrollton late last year as part of a tour that included visits to other finalist organizations. The health system pulled out all the stops to bring together representatives from throughout the region who have been part of Get Healthy, Live Well’s programs, giving a face and voice to the effect these efforts have had. Carrollton’s City Station hosted the visit.

One significant way Get Healthy, Live Well has had an impact is through its free educational programs, regularly offered throughout Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties.

Get Healthy, Live Well sourced several clinically based programs backed with research to demonstrate their effectiveness. Those programs include Living Well With Diabetes and the Living Well Workshop, each developed by Stanford University, the American Cancer Society’s Freshstart tobacco cessation program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Diabetes Prevention Program.

Since 2014, more than 400 residents have completed the Diabetes Prevention Program alone, delaying or even preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes by changing their behaviors and diets and losing, on average, more than 5 percent of their body weight over the course of the program.

To reach the people who would benefit most from those programs, Get Healthy, Live Well has also started a unique clinical-community linkage process, enabling physicians and other medical providers to refer a patient to a program right from the patient’s medical record. Referrals are received at Tanner and a coordinator contacts the patient to discuss class offerings and register them to attend.

“Population health management, patient education and engagement are all critical parts of the care we provide in a practice setting,” said Amy Eubanks, MD, a board-certified internal medicine provider with Primary Care of Bremen, a certified Patient-centered Medical Home and part of Tanner Medical Group.

According to Dr. Eubanks, clinicians — including physicians and advanced practice providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners — are caring for more patients with complex chronic diseases. Community-clinical linkages are helping these providers connect patients to the resources that help them best manage those conditions.

“It’s hard to have time in a practice setting to give patients the education they need to best control their conditions,” said Dr. Eubanks. “When a patient understands his or her role in managing a condition, they do better. The classes not only give them the education they need, but they become a support group of their peers who are dealing with similar issues.”

Almost 120 medical providers at almost 30 medical practices throughout the region have been trained to refer patients to Get Healthy, Live Well, and these providers have referred more than 4,000 patients to Get Healthy, Live Well’s evidence-based classes.

Another innovation highlighted by the Foster G. McGaw Prize committee was an effort that gives nursing students a chance to learn more about disease processes and community wellness. Get Healthy, Live Well worked with the University of West Georgia’s Tanner Health System School of Nursing to develop a unique community health preceptorship program that teaches nursing students not only how to treat illness, but how to provide education and insight that can prevent disease in the first place.

“It’s had a tremendous impact on our nursing students,” said Jenny Schuessler, Ph.D., RN, dean and professor of the Tanner Health System School of Nursing at UWG. “They get to see health care from a very different perspective, and that’s making them better nurses.”

Another major initiative for Get Healthy, Live Well has been supporting the Carrollton GreenBelt, which formally opened in 2017.

“Tanner was the perfect partner to provide programming for the Carrollton GreenBelt,” said Erica Studdard, community development director for Carrollton and former executive director of Friends of the Carrollton GreenBelt.

Carrollton GreenBelt supporters relied on Tanner to produce all the marketing materials for the project. Tanner also helped develop community-based initiatives that would utilize the trail network like Safe Routes to School, which has led to more pedestrian-friendly policies and infrastructure on the Carrollton City Schools campus and the bike-share program that has stations throughout the city, making it one of the most utilized such programs in the Southeast. The local bike-share program now boasts more riders than its counterpart in the city of Atlanta.

Get Healthy, Live Well also worked with local communities to implement or improve “Complete Streets” policies that have improved pedestrian safety and access, encouraging more people to walk or bike.

“Tanner understood that infrastructure — trails, parks and paths — improve a community’s health,” said Studdard of the Carrollton GreenBelt. “Their programs brought people to the trail.”

Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent of Carrollton City Schools, cited the ways the Get Healthy, Live Well initiative has become part of the very dialect of the region.

“One of the hardest outcomes to achieve is changing the culture,” said Dr. Albertus. “In west Georgia, Get Healthy, Live Well is a household name — it’s changing our culture.”

In addition to Safe Routes to School, Get Healthy, Live Well has worked with local schools to improve school nutrition and educate young people on the importance of eating a healthy diet. Those efforts have led to the establishment of at least 16 school gardens, a unique program that makes healthy cooking part of the school curriculum with the Kids ‘N The Kitchen program and more.

According to school leaders, those efforts have led to a noticeable increase in the number of children making healthier choices in school cafeterias.

“We’re giving students the opportunity to learn about eating healthy and to try healthy foods,” said Dr. Linette Dodson, RD, LD, the former director of school nutrition for Carrollton City Schools who is now state director of the Georgia Department of Education’s School Nutrition Division. “Those nutrition lessons have led to the number of students choosing items such as salads at lunch to increase from 500 to 850, and they’re also taking those lessons home to their parents and trying to impact the level of nutrition in their own homes.”

Among the four finalists, the AHA announced earlier this year that the winner of the Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service for 2018 would be Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. The organization will receive a $100,000 prize to help them continue their community health goals.

The other finalists, along with Tanner, included Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, Texas, and Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. As a finalist, Tanner received a $10,000 prize.

“It’s almost unheard of to become a finalist the first year you qualify for this award, so we’re very honored that we had this chance to share our story with our colleagues from the AHA,” said Taylor. “I expect we will apply next year, too, and use this experience — and some of the new programs we have in the works — to further impress on the prize committee the extraordinary things we’re doing to impact the health of our region.”

Led by Tanner, Get Healthy, Live Well is a comprehensive community health collaborative working to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent chronic disease by decreasing health disparities, reducing obesity rates, eliminating tobacco use, increasing physical activity and improving nutrition in Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties. More information on the collaborative’s work can be found online at GetHealthyLiveWell.org.

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