Healthcare at heart of all policy Petaluma wellness group puts pressure on all city officials

When Petaluma’s public officials make decisions on any issues - whether it is taxes, schools, transportation or land-use development ­- Karen Ben-Moshe wants them to ask one question: How will the decision effect the public’s health?|

During last fall’s meeting of the Petaluma Healthcare District’s CHIPA (Community Health Initiative for the Petaluma Area), Karen Ben-Moshe spoke to community leaders about the philosophy surrounding “Health in all policies” - a program she coordinates for the California Department of Public Health.

Ben-Moshe helped write a booklet titled “Health in All Policies” for the California Department of Public Health. In the booklet, Ben-Moshe said public policy involving health decisions included everything from childhood obesity to paying employees a living wage. She added that affordable transportation options, safe drinking water, smoke-free neighborhoods and low-income housing were all part of the process in creating healthy communities.

“Our greatest health challenges are often linked,” said Ben-Moshe. “Promoting healthy communities requires that we address the social determinants of health, such as transportation, education, access to healthy food and economic opportunities.”

So when Petaluma’s public officials make decisions on any issues - whether it is taxes, schools, transportation or land-use development ­- Ben-Moshe wants them to ask one question: How will the decision effect the public’s health?

“Complete and livable communities including quality schools, parks, recreational facilities, childcare, libraries, and financial services,” said Ben-Moshe. “Sometimes health care does not look like health.”

She said the goal was to “embed health into all public policy” and guide political and policy leaders under the umbrella of healthcare. But, she noted that while this approach might be agreed to in broad terms, the specifics often created disputes.

“Not all (city) departments care about health,” said Ben-Moshe. “They don’t see it as part of their job description or even in their best interest. Issues such as a living wage, land use planning, purchasing and education - these are all issues that should have health considered as part of policy.”

Petaluma Mayor David Glass, who was part of the discussion during the fall meeting, said the city had begun a process of incorporating health into transit decisions, as well as housing and after-school programs. But he said lack of funding was the primary hindrance to making Ben-Moshe’s goals work.

“We’ve expanded after-hours programs for the Boys & Girls Club, plus we’ve approved housing at Washington and Petaluma Boulevard and adopted transit-oriented development,” noted Glass. “But state law has changed. We no longer receive the redevelopment funds that applied to these types of improvements. As everyone knows, nothing happens without the money. We have to have some form of funding mechanism.”

Earlier in 2014, Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services published a comprehensive study of the region titled “A Portrait of Sonoma.”

In that report, the county said its goal was to bring about “health equality for all” and included such non-traditional health related subjects as making universal preschool accessible for all residents.

“The first three years are critical to the emotional, social, cognitive and linguistic development of young children,” the report states.

Ramona Faith, Petaluma’s Health Care District CEO, said making sure all children can attend preschool so they’re ready to learn by the time they enter elementary school would be a determining factor in improving the overall health of Petaluma.

“Education leads to economy which leads to health,” said Faith. “Education leads to a better quality of life in all aspects of health, including physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.”

Erin Hawkins, Petaluma Health Care District Project Manager, said research indicated early childhood literacy and education led to better health habits.

“The data shows that those who have access to pre-school education and can read at grade level by third grade stand a much better chance of graduating high school, going to college, and earning a better living. That means they have a better chance of being able to afford access to preventative health care,” said Hawkins.

Ben-Moshe advocated creating a structural change at all levels of government that would incorporate a complex set of policies around the theme of a healthier community.

“Health in all policies engages many stakeholders,” said Ben-Moshe. “A health in all policies approach focuses on deep and ongoing collaboration.”

(Contact E.A. Barrera at ernesto.barrera@arguscou

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