Contact: Thomas Hottman
While many are familiar with the Blue Zones healthy initiative project now underway in Klamath Falls, few are as knowledgeable of its funding and oversight arm — Cambia Health Solutions.
Cambia Health Solutions is a Portland-based company with more than 25 health-based organizations under its umbrella. It is a holding company that employs some 5,000 people in 30 states.
It includes regional health insurance firms such as Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon and Bridgespan Group. It has six regional health plans in four states that insure more than two million people in the Pacific Northwest and has nationwide ties that equals to $8.5 billion in annual revenues.
Peggy Maguire, senior vice president of corporate accountability, noted that the company's roots go back nearly 100 years in Oregon when loggers and families pooled funds to help each other with medical needs.
Maguire oversees the philanthropic arm of the company — Cambia Health Foundation — which is the major backer of Blue Zones, along with a match from Sky Lakes Medical Center.
Cambia Health Foundation has made a $4.3 million grant to the Oregon Healthy Estate Initiative — launched by former Gov. John Kitzhaber — to support the Blue Zones work. Klamath Falls is the first project site for Blue Zones in the state.
"In Klamath Falls we have already committed $1.3 million in support Blue Zones and anticipate over the next three years our financial support will exceed $3 million," Maguire said.
The money is funding the boots on the ground: a staff of five full-timers in the Klamath Falls office, led by local program manager Jessie Dubose. (There are other, state-wide Blue Zones workers as well).
The Klamath Falls staff has drawn up a blueprint for how Blue Zones will be carried out here. It will provide specific, measurable goals documenting health improvements in the community.
Concrete results expected
It may sound like a complicated model, but what it comes down to is results.
Paul Stewart, President and CEO of Sky Lakes Medical Center, puts it this way: "We've done a lot of talking for a few years, it's time to make something happen that will bend the needle a little bit. We've got to see some results coming out and see them soon, in terms of concrete actions taken."
Sky Lakes has some skin in the game, too. It has committed $600,000 over a three-year period to be matched, 2-to-1 by Cambia.
Stewart acknowledges that moving the dial on smoking cessation, obesity, diabetes and heart disease has not been easy in the conservative, independent-minded Basin.
"I think there is some level of skepticism and some push back, if you will. We are an independent, maverick community and one that doesn't like to be told what to do, at least in some corners," Stewart said. "It stems from people's political philosophies; they don't want freedoms encroached on from a policy standpoint."
For example, there remains a large number of smokers in the population despite the wealth of information on its dangers.
"We're all paying for the results of second-hand smoke with higher health care costs. That butts up against a philosophy of: Who are we to tell the people what they can or cannot do?" Stewart said. "To me, you have to make it easier to make the right (healthy) choice and make it harder to make the wrong choice. But is does make people bristle."
Nonetheless, Blue Zones will have its best shot at moving the dial as it rolls out ways people can live healthier and happier lives. That will include grocery stores and restaurants signing on to offer healthier food options; businesses encouraging employees to participate in healthy living options; and infrastructure, such as hiking trails and bike paths.
"I'm optimistic that we now have the dedicated resources to accomplish our goals," Stewart said.
For Cambia, Maguire said: "Honestly, we want the resident of Klamath Falls to be inspired and encouraged to incorporate evidence-based healthy living principles, where they live work and play.
"We're excited to see the start in Klamath Falls and we hope people and organizations there will continue down that path toward better health.
"Our hope is there is a domino-effect that other communities will look at what's happening in Klamath Falls and, once we have results that show themselves to inspire other Oregonians to become healthier and have a greater sense of well-being."