Heart of New Ulm receives prestigious national award

NEW ULM – U.S. Sen. Al Franken said it a typically funny way, harking back to his comedian days:

Since the Heart of New Ulm initiative started five years ago, New Ulm residents have lost a combined 8,000 pounds; the weight of a baby blue whale.

The remark, which elicited laughter and applause, was part of a televised message by Franken played during a special event at the New Ulm Medical Center Tuesday: the community presentation of a prestigious national award.

As speakers stated, the award – a 2014 NOVA Award from the American Hospital Association given to HONU and the New Ulm Medical Center – is indeed “a very big deal.”

It is one of only five given each year nationwide.

Established in 1993, the award recognizes hospitals and health systems for their collaborative efforts toward improving community health, speakers explained.

The Heart of New Ulm project, which is now officially “Heart Beats Back,” is being honored for demonstrating how hospitals and health organizations working with partners in the community can improve the health and wellness of the people they serve.

While Franken could not be present in person, the event drew many other notable guests.

They included 1st District Congressman Tim Walz, who also addressed the gathering in person, many project partners and champions in the community, representatives of the American Hospital Association and the Minnesota Hospital Association, and leaders, staff and board members of HONU, the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, the New Ulm Medical Center and Allina Health.

The community has much to celebrate, officials addressing the ceremony said, in successive remarks.

Since the HONU project started five years ago, community culture in New Ulm has transformed in significant ways to support healthier lifestyles, and data shows significant improvements in the health of community residents.

From 2009 to 2011, New Ulm made bigger improvements than Minnesota in the rates of acute heart attacks and deaths from coronary heart disease, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

In addition, electronic health record data from NUMC comparing 2008-09 to 2012-13 shows that among adults of ages 40-79, the percent with blood pressure within the recommended range increased from 79 to 84 percent. The percent with LDL (“bad”) cholesterol within the recommended range increased from 68 to 72 percent; and the percent with total cholesterol within the recommended range increased from 58 percent to 65 percent.

According to Jackie Boucher, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, these blood pressure and cholesterol improvements are particularly notable because they represent larger improvements than trends in the rest of the country.

Boucher listed a variety of specific transformations that have happened across the entire community – at worksites, in the way health care is delivered, in grocery stores and restaurants, on the individual level – and the “pervasive culture changes” that they represent.

According to Toby Freier, President of New Ulm Medical Center, “Collaboration between the New Ulm Medical Center and the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation and among a very broad spectrum of stake-holders in New Ulm has been key to the project’s success. Over the past several years, the project has become a sort of a fabric of our community. We’ve seen tremendous buy-in on a true partnership, which is essential for creating a sustainable culture of health.”

In his opening remarks, Freier also gave credit to Dr. Kevin Graham for initiating the HONU project.

Leah Shaver, Director of Human Resources for J&R Schugel, recounted her company’s engagement with HONU.

Initiatives such as foldable bikes provided to truck drivers, fitness events, creating a tobacco-free environment and many other incentives specific to the J&R Schugel workforce have brought tangible results in improving lifestyle choices and health indicators for its employees, noted Shaver.

Many speakers stressed that the project can serve as a model of how to go about shaping communities’ health and how to deliver health care nationwide in the future.

Walz praised the community’s “incredible stories” and the positive changes brought by the initiative as “truly groundbreaking work.”

He vowed to do his share in promoting policies seeking to make a positive difference in community health.

The question is, he noted, how do we extrapolate and incorporate the ideas implemented in New Ulm in other communities and how to foster “an air of collaboration” in the rest of the country.

“I stand with you policy-wise, and I stand with you on the running trail,” said Walz.

The NOVA Award was originally presented to Freier in July in San Diego.

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