Contact: Thomas Hottman
It's isn't easy changing a town's culture, even when there's wide-spread recognition among community leaders that it needs to happen in order to deal with fundamental problems.
That point is at the core of Klamath Falls' efforts to improve community health, which is chronically been ranked among the worst of Oregon counties and, for the past two years, dead last. That's 34th out of 34 counties, which didn't include two of Oregon's smallest counties.
We can moan and groan about it, but we need to get beyond that and not only recognize something is wrong, but do something about it.
Local people are doing so, with help from outside organizations, such as Project Blue Zones, a health improvement organization we had never heard of until recent weeks. Their representatives have been visiting Klamath Falls to prepare an assessment of the county's urban core — the entire city of Klamath Falls plus the heavily populated suburban area outside the city limits.
Project Blue Zones has been successful helping transform communities into better health and relationship patterns that help extend the expected life span, which is a pretty sound measure of general good health practices.
The results, though, go beyond health issues. It's pretty easy to see, for example, how good health helps education.
"Seat time" — getting kids to school and in front of a teacher — is generally a major factor in how well they do. Good health makes it more likely students will get themselves to school. The good health of parents makes it more likely they won't be sidetracked by health issues and be able to encourage students to attend school.
Parents are a biggest part of a student's support system. The Klamath Promise, an organization striving for a 100 percent high school graduation rate, is also working on increasing attendance rates.
As it usual is when it comes to health matters, Sky Lakes Medical Center is playing a prominent role by committing $600,000 over three years funding, which will generate another $1.2 million in matching funds from Cambria Health Foundation.
Sky Lakes also provided the funds to buy the old West One auto dealership in the 1900 block of South Sixth Street to convert it to a social service center including some medical services and eventually will include the Klamath Falls Gospel Mission.
Healthy physical activities can also be a springboard to the positive social interaction that Project Blue Zone encourages to help unite a community.
There are already a lot of things, big and small, happening for the better here because someone saw a need. Such things as a growing trail system and more bicycle-friendly environs come to mind along with the social service center and Klamath Promise
There might also be something that nobody here has thought of yet, but the Project Blue Zones organization has seen work in Southern California, Minnesota, Iowa or Indiana and would be a perfect fit. Klamath Falls is already moving ahead to create a better community, but it could use the help.