This month we are highlighting how communities work to improve public health. We spoke with Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin of St. Petersburg, FL, a member of the the Fall 2015 Leadership Class.
The City of St. Petersburg recognizes that a healthy, safe, and resilient community is essential to our future growth. One example of our dedication to improving health outcomes for our citizenry is through the Healthy St. Pete initiative. Through Healthy St. Pete, we aspire to create a stronger community and healthier environments that provide opportunities for our residents to live healthy lifestyles more easily.
Healthy St. Pete is a citywide community engagement and empowerment initiative that is creating powerful partnerships to drive local change. The City is currently using a cross-sector collaborative approach to focus on four areas of impact (Live Healthy, Eat Healthy, Shop Healthy, and Play Healthy). We are examining sustainable policy implementation and change in the areas of food access and nutrition, innovative programming surrounding access to health care and physical fitness, and improvements to the built environment in our parks, trails, and city streets.
The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County conducted a Community Health Assessment (CHA) and noted that the top health concerns in our county included obesity and chronic disease. The CHA also emphasized the importance of a clean environment and safe neighborhoods for a healthy community. With the assistance of grant partnerships with the National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA) and the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, the City of St. Petersburg is proactively addressing health concerns through the following actions:
- Providing community education for nutrition and active lifestyles
- Providing children’s evidence-based physical fitness programs at many of our recreation centers,
- Improving access to fresh produce and healthy options in areas of the city deemed food deserts,
- Examining our parks and trails access points and amenities, and making infrastructure and other improvements.
- Adoption of a Complete Streets Administrative Policy for improved multi-modal transportation access
- Launching Bike Share and Bike Friendly Business programs
Many cities around the country have begun to integrate community health into long-range planning. How is St. Petersburg integrating health into local plans and policies?
By working in partnership with civic and nonprofit organizations like the American Heart Association, local businesses, and public health authorities, we are leveraging collective community power to integrate health into current policies and future plans. Our goal is to work toward a definition of health that goes beyond improving disease and infirmity but to engrain good health into everyday life here in St. Petersburg. In development of the Healthy St. Pete initiative, a thorough examination of our current county health rankings and the Pinellas County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) took place to ensure our goals and future planning are not a duplication of services but align and enhance other community efforts. From that examination, four health priority areas emerged as being critical to achieving our vision:
- Improving access to health care
- Behavioral health
- Health promotion and disease prevention and
- Healthy communities and environments
As we integrate health into local and future planning, these four focus areas help guide us to become the healthiest city in the nation and remain at the forefront of our mission.
Being active is an important part of being healthy. How does the built environment in St. Petersburg support an active lifestyle?
On March 19, 2010, the City of St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department became one of only 143 agencies in the country to be conferred national agency accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA). National agency accreditation requires park and recreation agencies to respond to 155 standards representing elements of effective and efficient park and recreation operations.
As St. Petersburg grows, so do the opportunities for activity in all its neighborhoods with 17 recreation facilities, nine swimming pools, over 150 parks, over 70 athletic fields, and programming for all ages and abilities. St. Petersburg supports many opportunities for an active lifestyle, and, in order to meet the needs of our community we are continually exploring ways to improve and expand our current facilities, programs, and land use. We recently installed five outdoor fitness zones and made significant improvements to North Shore Aquatics Complex to include an environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling system as well as a water saving filtration system. In addition, to enhance and protect Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, the city designated 157 acres within Boyd Hill as a preserve, protecting it from encroaching development. Built environments have a profound influence on public health, affecting the physical and psychological well-being of all ages. As a city, we are working to make health a clear component of our planning.
Improving the health and well-being of a community is a large task and requires collaboration between community stakeholders. What kinds of partnerships around health initiatives are taking place in St. Petersburg?
Healthy St. Pete is working to bring diverse and nontraditional partners to the table to improve the health of our residents. We are exploring partnerships with competing hospital systems that service outside counties by partnering together to decrease the prevalence of chronic disease and increase nutritional education. For-profit businesses and municipal partnerships are also taking part to improve food access in underserved areas. We engage local stakeholder groups such as civic associations, community councils, and local business owners for feedback and input on upcoming biking and transportation projects that impact health.
Recently a partnership has developed between our Police Department, Healthy St. Pete, and the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas to expand access to safety information and health resources in at-risk neighborhoods resulting in the launch of a program titled the SPPD (St. Petersburg Police Department) Resource Bus Connection. This program leverages resources through a citizen volunteer network and local health-focused nonprofits to improve the well-being of our residents.
What is St. Petersburg doing to ensure that residents have equitable access to healthcare services?
We continue to make progress toward improving health disparities in our city by strengthening the integration of our current health systems. Program partnerships that focus on improving access to low cost /free health screenings and exams, pediatric services, and senior care, we make a difference now while strengthening existing programs. We are making long-term commitments to improve public health through partnerships that take part in a countywide Community Health Action Team (CHAT). The team is comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders that are working to improve access to health care, behavioral health, disease prevention and health promotion in our community. By using the CHIP over the course of the next three years, CHAT members will formulate goals, strategies, and objectives to address each of these priority areas.
How do programs like U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets and Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties run by the National League of Cities and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services support the work of mayors and other civic leaders around the country to improve their community’s health?
Programs such as “Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets” and “Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties,” highlight the role health plays in building a vibrant and diverse community. These programs give local leaders the platform necessary to elevate public health, integrate sustainable policy changes, and work toward improving the quality of life for its residents.