Columns for The Lufkin News

Moving the Needle on Health in Angelina County

Posted Aug 13, 2017 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Back in January, I wrote about the abysmal county health rankings in Deep East Texas and the fact that Angelina County has been named the county with the highest obesity rate in Texas. Almost four out of ten of us aren't merely overweight, we are downright obese. Let’s just admit it; we’re fat. And that fatness is a major factor in the development of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers, among other illnesses. 

Obesity is a two-edged sword that is both killing us early and costing us a lot in terms of ongoing healthcare expenditures and lost productivity. Smoking is, of course, another huge factor in our high cost of healthcare and poorer health outcomes. We must do better.

The rhetoric on the national stage is all about the skyrocketing cost of health insurance and how to tweak (or get rid of) Obamacare, as if that would solve our healthcare problems. The government can’t do it for us, folks. Regardless of what happens with healthcare reform, we need to collectively get off our fat behinds and take more responsibility for our own health. We need to do this individually, yes, but we also need to work on this as a community.

I mentioned in January the groundwork being laid by the Texas Forest Country Partnership. They hosted a series of strategic planning sessions to set goals for growth across a broad spectrum of our regional economy, from forestry and tourism to manufacturing and healthcare. Part of their healthcare recommendation was to raise our county health rankings in the region.

Since then, the $1 billion Episcopal Health Foundation, whose goal is to improve the health of the 10 million people living throughout the 57-county region served by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, hosted a community meeting in Nacogdoches specifically to deepen their relationship with organizations working to improve community health in this area. Other foundations have expressed a similar interest.

But let’s be very clear: no foundation or partnership is going to do the work for us. We all have to be involved. The amazing thing about Angelina County is the number of resources we already have, along with the incredible people behind them! These resources need to intentionally focus on both individual and community health and work in a coordinated effort to put the pieces of our health puzzle together.

Hospitals must strengthen community outreach, especially with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer education. Physicians must expand care for the indigent in our communities. It is our duty. The Angelina County & Cities Health District deserves our full support for the incredible care they already provide, but they can and must do more. That requires funding, whether from grant support, state government, or from within Angelina County. Their primary care outreach is crucial to the health of our county.

Organizations like the American Cancer Society, The Coalition, ADAC, and the Burke Center must expand outreach and education about healthy lifestyles and disease prevention, cancer screening, smoking cessation, and immunizations. Women’s Special Services at CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial will continue to apply for grants for low income women to get breast and cervical cancer screening. 

Lufkin went smoke free years ago and is better off for it. What about other cities? Diboll? Angelina County? Texas? Our state legislators need to use that proposed bathroom bill as toilet paper and instead pass smoke free legislation, which we know will both improve the health of our communities and save taxpayer dollars.

Chamber businesses need to provide or strengthen wellness programs for their employees, encouraging healthier lifestyles, diet, exercise, and smoking cessation. Maybe if people had to climb two flights of stairs to buy their cigarettes rather than drive through a barn or stop at a convenience store, fewer people would smoke. And they’d lose weight while they were at it! Is it just as easy for us to shop for healthy foods as it is tobacco and junk food? How do we encourage and facilitate healthy eating?

Our educational institutions from elementary school through college should have comprehensive, intentional programs to promote health and exercise. It is discouraging when I see employees at both our local hospitals riding the elevator to go up one floor when taking the stairs is much more beneficial.

Active events like the Neches River Rendezvous, Pineywoods Purgatory and Relay for Life are fantastic. What other events can we organize that will involve an even larger and broader swath of people year round? Find a reason to get outside. Participate in a fun run, even if you simply walk a mile or two. A stroll around the zoo can be good exercise and lots of fun. Or, spend an hour or two hiking the trails at Kit McConnico Park. It’ll do your heart and soul good! 

City sidewalks have been a great addition in recent years. Use them! Our Parks and Recreation Department has a website with programs and classes as well. Do we have a master plan for parks and recreation activities? If not, maybe we should.

I have a dream of a coordinated community effort where healthy living concepts infuse everything we do. Will Angelina County catch the vision to join in this effort? Lifestyle changes are hard. Nothing happens overnight. Changes in community health are measured over years - decades, even. We cannot get discouraged. Slow, meaningful progress over time will make a difference.

One early step coming up is the Texas Forest Country Partnership Economic Summit November 7-8, 2017 at the Pitser Garrison Convention Center. Included in that Summit will be a Rural Healthcare Symposium. Though it will address more than just Angelina County healthcare, it will be an important venue to discuss and brainstorm together. The Texas Forest Country Partnership should continue to take the lead in bringing groups together, applying for and administering grants, and monitoring progress and effectiveness.

As we plan for a healthy new direction in Angelina County, I encourage everyone to get involved. Be prepared to work! Come up with concrete ideas that you (or your business or organization) are willing to implement. Where philanthropic support is necessary, we will approach local, regional, and national foundations for assistance.

We must become the change we want to see and move the needle on health in Angelina County out of the red zone and into the green. Who’s with me?

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Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

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Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

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Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

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Aimee Salas, RT (T)

Aimee Salas, RT (T)

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Julie McClain, RT (R)(T)

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Linda Miller, MS

Linda Miller, MS

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Evelyn Leach

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