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Published on September 12, 2014

New Spartanburg, SC, health initiative earns national spotlight

SIMSBURY, Conn., Date, 2014 – On August 13, Spartanburg, SC, was chosen as one of only five communities in the country—and the only one in the entire southeast—to participate in an innovative new health initiative called the Way to Wellville. The diverse local team that applied for the initiative is led by Mary Black Foundation and includes Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, University of South Carolina Upstate, City of Spartanburg and digital health entrepreneur Sentil Premraj.

Soon after earning a place in the top five of this national competition, Spartanburg was again honored with an additional boost. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., has invited the Spartanburg Wellville team to the capital to represent the five winning communities at an August forum.

“This news is incredible for Spartanburg,” says Renée Buyck Romberger, Vice President of Community Health Policy and Strategy at Spartanburg Regional. “Being named a Wellville community gives us a big push forward to build on past successes to improve the health of our community. Over the next five years, we’ll have access to leaders across the nation who are committed to helping us achieve our goals. ”

The Way to Wellville effort was developed by a national non-profit called the Health Initiative Coordinating Council, or HICCup. Its goal is to encourage communities to create comprehensive plans to improve the health of their residents, and then to share their successes with other communities across the country. According to Forbes (August 18, 2014), the Spartanburg team impressed the national Wellville board by its breadth of experience.

“If you’re going to move a community forward, you’ve got to have a diverse group of very involved people,” says Kathy Dunleavy, President and CEO of Mary Black Foundation. “That’s what the national Wellville advisory board was looking for, and that’s what we can offer. This is a big deal, and we’re very excited.”

According to Wellville organizers, applicants were evaluated for their readiness for success and on the group’s diversity in geography, demographics and the lead organization. During an on-site visit, the Connecticut-based Wellville committee made an on-site visit, where dozens of area business leaders and community advocates shared with them specific successful initiatives already in place, programs which Spartanburg can build on as part of the Wellville challenge.

One example is Spartanburg Regional Health System’s ability to cut $35 million in charity costs by helping residents with preventive care and on-going treatments—before health issues become serious. That, in turn, helps them to avoid more expensive emergency or crisis care. In awarding Spartanburg with the Top Five designation, the national Wellville advisory committee also praised the community’s past and current efforts to improve quality of life with projects like the “Northside Neighborhood” revitalization and the culinary arts program in the school system.

The Spartanburg Wellville team has determined that over the next five years, they will focus on specific areas to improve health: access to health care, obesity, school readiness and community pride, Romberger says. Each Wellville community will work with HICCup and a network of partners to produce visible and measurable improvements in health and economic vitality. The communities will receive support in the areas of data and measurement, evidence-based health solutions, and innovative financing strategies, according to organizers.

“We were looking for five extraordinary communities – and we found many more than that,” according to Esther Dyson, HICCup founder and angel investor who has been heralded by Forbes, the New York Times and BBC as a pioneer. “This is encouraging because the idea is not just to make a measurable difference in five places, but to demonstrate how a comprehensive approach to health can work and be replicated in many other communities around the country.”

In addition to Spartanburg, the other members of the “Wellville Five” are the communities of Clatsop County, Oregon; Greater Muskegon, Michigan; Lake County, California; and Niagara Falls, New York.

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