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Blue Zones Project ready for next phase

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Blue Zones Project ready for next phase

Hospital news | Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Contact: Thomas Hottman

The Blue Zones Project team hopes enthusiasm about the initiative will continue through to next year.

Representatives from the Blue Zones Project at Healthways, Cambia Health Foundation, and Oregon Healthiest State made the announcement Monday afternoon at the Sky Lakes Wellness Center. Klamath Falls is now officially a Blue Zones Project demonstration community for the health improvement initiative after months of research and meetings.

"We've been overwhelmed by the community response to the Blue Zones Project," said Jon Werger, the executive director of community operations at Healthways, the Blue Zones Project parent company.

Community stakeholders

Before the official announcement, the Blue Zones Project team made an initial leadership presentation in March, identified key community stakeholders, and started the ball rolling on a research project to determine if Blue Zones Project and Klamath Falls were a good fit. The team returned for a follow-up leadership presentation at the Ross Ragland Theater in May, held focus groups to hear from community members, held more meetings with various organizations and companies and worked on a built environment assessment. More than 180 leaders attended the presentation at the Ragland, said Blue Zones Project senior consultant Erika Graves; 220 people attended the focus groups, and the team met with 25 different groups, employers, and organizations.

Those months of work resulted in a detailed report, more than 130 pages long. The Blue Zones Project assessment report, or readiness assessment, is filled with an analysis of the Klamath Falls community. The report was released to community leaders at the presentation Monday.

The report is one of the first steps for the Blue Zones Project team, and the community health transformation initiative it is undertaking. The assessment was used as a basis to determine whether or not Klamath Falls was ready for the project.

Health survey results

As part of the readiness assessment, the Blue Zones Project team researched previous community health assessments, learned more about various organizations and conducted a comprehensive health survey to use as a baseline to track changes in the health of the community. The health survey, which uses the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, will be released in August, Graves said.

The report includes a breakdown of the current state of well-being in Klamath Falls, including demographics, and also highlights community strengths, challenges, and opportunities in several key areas, including schools, grocery stores, built environment and more.

"All the signs are just extremely positive," Werger said of the community involvement in the Blue Zones Project, again noting the excitement and enthusiasm he and the team have seen. "We're really excited for the next phase."

What's next?

That next phase includes hiring a local team for the project, including a director, program manager, an organization lead, who will drive the work in schools, at work sites, in stores, and help those groups use Blue Zones tools, and an engagement lead, who will work on marketing, with media, and event planning. Graves is hoping the local team will start in September.

The Blue Zones Project team is working to identify those other team members, and searching for a local office location, Werger said.

The Blue Zones Project in Klamath Falls will also include a steering committee and a leadership team, Graves said. The current team has a "short list" of community leaders whom they would like to be part of the project steering committee, many of whom were in attendance at the announcement on Monday, she said.

Fall training, orientations

The project will move forward behind the scenes through fall, including staff training and orientations. Steering committee and leadership team meetings are scheduled in August and September.

Throughout fall and winter of this year, the whole local team, including both staff and volunteers, will be creating a community work plan, called a Blueprint, which will include specific priorities and action items, and will measure success of the projects throughout the year.

There are also three policy workshops scheduled for this fall, focused on the community's built environment, food, and tobacco policy. The Blue Zones Project team will bring in national experts in each area to talk to stakeholders about best practices, and which of those practices and approaches might be the best fit for Klamath Falls, Graves explained.

2016 kick-off event

In early 2016, the Blue Zones Project will host a kick-off event, which will be the community's chance to learn more about the project, the plans included in the Blueprint, and how they can "plug-in," or get involved, Werger said.

Until then, Werger and Graves hope the excitement about Blue Zones Project doesn't wane, and that momentum holds over to next year. So far, they've been "thrilled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support," Werger said.

Graves also encourages anyone interested in Blue Zones Project to do their homework: visit the project's website at oregon.bluezonesproject.com or bluezones.com, read the books released by founder Dan Buettner, and stay tuned for upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

For more information about how to get involved, email Blue Zones Project.

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