The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 18, 2013

Healthy Nevada making strides toward reversing low rankings

NEVADA, Mo. — Every day that the weather allows, 77-year-old Barbara Weakley drives to Izaak Walton Park and walks at least three miles.

Last year, she logged 1,005 miles.

“I started when my husband was ill, because I needed a mental release,” she said.

That was in 2006.

“I enjoyed it so much, I’m still going,” she said.

Weakley said she believes it’s up to individuals to stay healthy and active.

“People need to get away from the TV and outside,” she said.

But for whatever reason, Weakley is among the minority of residents in Vernon County, where Nevada is the county seat. Of 115 counties in the state, Vernon County came in last year at 88th for its overall health. For mortality, it ranked 95th.

Perhaps most troubling to leaders in the county’s largest city of Nevada, population 8,500, is that the area was 104th in healthy behaviors.

The percentage of adults who smoke is more than twice the national benchmark. Adult obesity and physical inactivity are well above the statewide average.

In contrast, the city scored high marks in its desire to turn the numbers around, according to Erik Gallimore, the director of rural health operations at Cerner Corp., a Kansas City-based provider of electronic medical systems.

Last fall, the company selected Nevada to team up on building a new model of health. The goal of the private-public partnership is to determine whether a rural community that ranks so low on so many health indexes can improve its rankings, help doctors work more efficiently and cut health care costs.

“In five years, we want to go from the bottom third to the top third on the health rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,” said City Manager J.D. Kehrman.

Six months later, the city is making headway, Kehrman said. A healthy concessions plan called “Eat Smart in the Parks” and the resurrection of a farmers market are planned to kick off soon.

Work also will be complete next month on the creation of the Healthy Nevada Innovation Center on the third floor of the Nevada Public Library.

Cerner is investing $750,000 in it and will maintain a five-year lease, with an option to renew for another five. When the company’s work in Nevada is done, the city keeps the center, Gallimore said.

At 6,100 square feet, it will include a research area for grant writing, and a public use area for classes, presentations and demonstrations related to health. An open house and dedication ceremony is planned for early June.

And on Wednesday, a master plan for a proposed bicycle-pedestrian system was unveiled.

It was met with a warm reception.

“This will change the way we do business here in Nevada,” Kehrman said. “We are breaking ground for an area for which there was no road map.”

Representatives from the PedNet Coalition, a pedestrian and pedaling network in Columbia, created and presented the master plan for the bicycle-pedestrian system after a detailed and comprehensive evaluation of the city last fall. More than 70 residents assisted in the project.

“It gives me goose bumps to sit here and listen to it,” said Nevada native Steve Marquardt.

“It’s very exciting,” said Judy Feuquay, CEO of Nevada Regional Medical Center. “With the escalating costs of health care, it’s important that people take personal responsibility for their health. This would be one of the ways we could help that happen.”

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