Reduce Your Chronic Care Community and Chronic Costs

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media , October 3, 2011

Change the Kids, Change the Future aims to transform the health and wellness of the local community, starting with kids and using schools as the focal point. Based on research showing that chronic health problems such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension stem primarily from lifestyle choices, Ochsner decided to put resources into attacking the problem at its root. Change the Kids, Change the Future helps educate students about how their lifestyle choices have a long-term impact on their health.

Ochsner chose a local school with health and population demographics typical of the average schools in this country. That meant some students receive public assistance, which is significant for health indicators; low-income individuals tend to be at higher risk for many chronic care diseases. Ochsner then engaged school administrators, students, teachers, families, and even the local grocery store to teach students about nutrition and cooking, fitness, and preventive health behaviors.

"We realized we needed to work with the whole family, because when these kids get home they don't have control of the menu. We could help the school offer better [food] choices, but we needed to get the family involved if we were going to make a total change," says Patrick J. Quinlan, MD, CEO of Ochsner Health System. "Often these kids can be change agents at home. Parents want to help; they are just doing what they do because that's all they know."

Ochsner provides the schools with a nurse practitioner and a mobile exercise van. But much of the labor involved to set up and run the program was donated by hospital workers eager to see the community get healthier. They worked with students to educate them and create a student wellness committee. The hospital also set up partnerships with businesses that could influence the success of the endeavor, including the grocery store, which agreed to put up signs on its shelves indicating healthy food choices.

It will take years to truly quantify how Change the Kids, Change the Future reduces the chronic care population in New Orleans. But Ochsner has the national healthcare system in mind. "These days we are all so focused eliminating cost. If you're worried about cost, there's nothing cheaper than a healthy person," Quinlan says. "Since these are problems hospitals are dealing with nationally, we set out to create a program that could be emulated on scale."

That's good for patients and CFOs alike. Financial leaders should guide their organizations toward investing in programs like Ochsner's, which address chronic care and the bottom line.

Karen Minich-Pourshadi is a Senior Editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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