Primary care physicians treat people, not diseases. In a way, they act as health coaches who focus on preventing illness through health and wellness. The approach is proven to work, as studies repeatedly show primary care prevents illness and death.
Imagine if there was only one primary care physician located in a community home to about 22,000 people across three ZIP codes. What happens when one person gets sick and doesn’t have a primary care physician?
The scenario is a reality for members of the Healthy Community Collaborative — Northeast Oklahoma City, a group of 36 individuals tasked with developing and adopting a sustainable 10-year plan to improve health in northeast Oklahoma City, where generations have experienced poor health when compared to the rest of the state.
The collaborative is the fourth step of Lynn Healthy Community planning, a creation of nonprofit Lynn Institute for Healthcare Research, Inc. Five years ago, the health organization began a new initiative focused on community health research, planning and community engagement. Leaders selected northeast Oklahoma City for its first community-planning endeavor. In 2016, the initiative produced The Lynn Lifestyle Summary – Northeast Oklahoma City, a comprehensive assessment of health outcomes citing hundreds of government and private studies as well as feedback from focus groups and community leaders.
The summary reports northeast Oklahoma City residents hold a higher morbidity rate in nearly every major disease when compared to other Oklahomans. That’s where the collaborative comes in; the group works to develop creative solutions to the health-related challenges faced by those living in northeast Oklahoma City and bring about change by 2026.
There are no easy answers or short-term fixes in combating health disparities. But Greg Jones, co-chair of the collaborative, contends by bringing people together from various backgrounds to talk health, people begin to recognize health depends as much on factors related to location — the environment, transportation, crime and the economy — as it does on what takes place in a doctor’s office. Therefore, the local community, even those without health or wellness backgrounds, can play a powerful role in influencing its health.
After 11 months of meetings, Jones, a businessman, confidently speaks about one of the 10-year goals set by the collaborative: Northeast Oklahoma City will have a population that exhibits strong mental, physical and emotional lifestyles.
“All residents will have access to a primary care doctor or primary care clinic,” Jones recited a two-year measurable goal.
He went on to share that the solution didn’t involve luring physicians to open practices in northeast Oklahoma City. Instead, it centers on utilizing the community’s assets.
“We know there are close to 100 churches in northeast Oklahoma City. We identify churches to get involved in free screenings,” Jones said.
Powerful dialogue and plans emerged in the months following the collaborative’s first meeting Feb. 29, 2016. Increasing access to primary care by inviting health care providers into neighborhood churches or facilities like Metro Tech’s Springlake Campus or Langston — OKC is just one of the objectives the collaborative will push for over the next two years, according to Jones and Karen Waddell, president and CEO of the Lynn Institute.
The collaborative will also push forward on developing a child and family mentor program, identifying northeast businesses with needs for economic development, planning community job fairs, coordinating neighborhood cleanups, establishing community gardens and much more.
Waddell said much of the recommendation centers on building and fostering community relationships with those already engaged or eager to engage in the community.
“You can’t go and fix health by itself if you don’t have relationships,” Waddell said.
Another barrier the collaborative noted is transportation, which can result in people missing health appointments or delaying care. Medicaid can provide transportation to and from a medical appointment for patients, but the key is getting a private cab company or individual drivers to file the paperwork with Medicaid for reimbursement. The gap could be filled by churches developing a ministry to transport neighbors either by personal cars or church vans to health appointments. The government would reimburse the trip with proper paperwork.
“It would be an Uber-like model,” Jones said. “You could get churches involved, people in the community involved, and we would make sure people would have a way to get to and from (appointments). You could expand those services, stopping at the grocery store or the pharmacy for a prescription.”
The collaborative is now ready to mobilize. With a number of recommended measurable goals to accomplish over the next two years, it is already reaching out to various organizations to begin community initiatives.
“This is an inclusive opportunity for people to be engaged and involved,” Jones said. “That is why the Lifestyle Summary is so important. Here are the facts. Now, we have to think ‘How do we plug people in?’”
The collaborative is one of many focusing on improving northeast Oklahoma City directly and indirectly, Waddell said. Collaboratives include SALLT (Salt and Light Leadership Training) How Are the Children?, Northeast Renaissance Stakeholders Committee, Getting Ahead/Bridges Out of Poverty planning task force and Oklahoma City Public Schools Northeast Task Force.
In years past, various groups or initiatives would work in silos to improve the community. These days, Jones sees the northeast community “speaking the same language” and cross-pollinating ideas to “make the community stronger.”
“There are a lot of great things happening,” Jones said, “and the pieces are coming together.”
From now through 2026, Healthy Community Collaborative Northeast Oklahoma City will work to implement the following goals:
Health: Northeast Oklahoma City will have a population that exhibits strong mental, physical and emotional lifestyles.
Transportation: Northeast Oklahoma City will have a transportation system which efficiently and affordably helps residents and visitors easily access all the assets and services of northeast Oklahoma City serving to support travel and enhance the park-like ambiance of northeast Oklahoma City.
Community and Economy: A sustainable economy which encourages and energizes healthy robust lifestyles. The northeast Oklahoma City community will have a culture of strong family units and will celebrate learning and education.
Environment: Northeast OKC is a preferred living destination featuring safe and beautiful spaces to live, work and to be healthy.
Print headline: New approach, Healthy Community Collaborative — Northeast Oklahoma City pushes forward with goals for the community.