Social Determinants of Health are the factors that shape someone’s community: access to things like health care, education, employment, and nutrition. Those determinants aren’t just related to the outside world, however: they’re also found right in our homes. Good homes help good health. Shelter is a basic need for human beings. Extreme heat or cold can lead to stress, sickness, hospitalization, and death.
Here are some things to watch out for, and some resources that can help:
Old paint and pipes can contain lead that enters drinking water and household dust. Older building techniques and materials can release radon into the air inside a home. Leaks in the roof or pipes can cause mold, triggering asthma and other respiratory problems. Good ventilation is important for everyone.
Many factors that make a home safe and healthy are common to every dwelling. Every home and apartment needs smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. Many local fire departments offer free smoke alarms through projects administered by the state fire marshal. You can call your local fire department to find out when these offers are available.
Age-Related Home Risks
A healthy home can mean different things for different stages of life. New parents are often shown how a home can be made safer for infants and newborns.
However, falls in the home are a serious health risk among all age groups, especially for older people. For them, or for people recovering from surgery, stroke, or living with multiple sclerosis, changes like ramps, grab bars, and safety railings can prevent serious falls. For people with vision problems, lighting may need adjusting.
UProot Partner Resources
Hospital and medical care case workers can help you plan changes to make your home safer. The Mississippi Access to Care Network can help you find services for modifying homes for older adults. Go to the MAC website, search for services, check “home modifications” in the “services” box, and select the county of your choice.
Quality of Life
The physical condition of a house isn’t the only thing that affects the health of the people who live there. The condition of the neighborhood also has a role to play. Neighborhoods with properly maintained sidewalks encourage walking and fitness. Trees lower summer temperatures and improve moods. Parks and playgrounds get people outdoors and socially engaged. Lung-damaging air pollution tends to concentrate near factories and traffic.
Finally, the affordability of housing has an impact on health. Money spent on rent cannot be spent on quality food, medication, or doctor visits. Health can suffer when a large amount of income is tied up in rent.
Solutions for Food Insecurity Will Take Many Partners: 2023 Mississippi Hunger Summit
The 2023 Mississippi Hunger Summit was an example of Mississippi public health organizations doing what they do best: coming together as partners to address our state’s critical issues.
In October 2023, the University of Mississippi CREW (Community First Research Center for Wellbeing & Creative Achievement) hosted the Mississippi Hunger Summit. Food access was a key component of the summit. As shown in presentations, food insecurity is an issue with effects that affect everything from mental health to education performance to obesity and health outcomes. With so many issues affected, welcoming input from a wide range of partners offers the best opportunity for innovative solutions.
One of the pillars of our work at UProot (you can read about it in our State Health Improvement Plan) is to tackle Food Insecurity. Food Insecurity is when people do not have enough quality food to ensure their health. This can mean insufficient food, or that the only available food does not provide the variety and nutrition required for good health.
Food Insecurity is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, and dementia. It also has a direct link to obesity. The reason is simple: When good food is hard to come by, families have no choice but to eat poorly. You can measure the accessibility of fresh, wholesome food in an area, and in many places in Mississippi, a lack of this constitutes what is known as a “Food Desert.” The distribution of these areas makes Food Insecurity a classic example of a Social Determinant of Health (SDOH).
Watch a clip from the opening remarks here:
Food Insecurity and Mental Health
Since hunger touches on many aspects of health, there was much to discuss, including the role of hunger and food insecurity on mental health. There are many connections between nutrition and mental health. Some are more obvious, such as the role of blood sugar in alertness or how the brain uses B vitamins and omega acids. Others are less obvious. Scott Hambleton, MD, Medical Director of the Mississippi Health Plan, also discussed the connection between the gut and the brain, a new area of interest that may become a powerful way of understanding mental and physical health that links both to the conditions in a community.
Food Insecurity’s Effects on Children
Children are especially vulnerable to food insecurity. The interplay between mental health, physical health, and the environment is precisely the sort of scenario that the SDOH concept attempts to address.
Uproot Partners in Action
Several UProot partners attended. The Mississippi Food Network presented information about food pantry resources.
While many people want to help with food insecurity, it takes skill to provide food safely and effectively for many people. These requirements, why they are in place, and what they achieve, were the focus of one of MFN’s presentations.
The 430 agencies that are part of the Mississippi Food Network are a testament to the number of people helping with food insecurity in Mississippi. It’s a big problem, and one a large number of Mississippians are eager to end.
November is National Diabetes Month, which focuses on diabetes prevention. Learning about simple lifestyle and nutrition tips can help manage or even prevent the onset of diabetes for Mississippians. We can all benefit when we educate ourselves about diabetes.
First, the basics: there are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes usually develops early in life, due to genetics and the environment. It cannot be prevented. This type is rare: only one in two hundred people has type one diabetes. One in seven Mississippians is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 develops later in life as a response to insulin levels brought on by obesity, a lack of physical activity, and genetics. There are more than twice as many people with diabetes in Mississippi than live in Jackson.
Misunderstandings about diabetes and its dangers persist. You may have heard “diabetes isn’t that bad” from someone who’s had it for years and keeps saying “well, it hasn’t killed me yet.”
Yet diabetes can lead to death, blindness, and amputation. But most insidiously, diabetes makes other health problems harder to treat, from high blood pressure to simple wounds. It dramatically increases your risk of other health conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
New treatments and techniques are successful at putting type 2 diabetes into remission. These days, type 2 diabetes – the kind that develops later in life – can be put into remission with a regimen of medication, weight loss, and exercise. People are finding freedom. The earlier you start these interventions, the more effective they are, so it’s vital to get regular checkups from a health care provider. The Mississippi State Department of Health offers free blood glucose checks at every county health department. Walk-ins are welcome, or you may call 855‑767‑0170 to schedule an appointment.
A final misconception is that the lifestyle changes that prevent and manage diabetes are too complicated or difficult for the average person to achieve.
While the changes can seem daunting at first, most of them are small, sensible, and available to people at any age. The Mississippi State Department of Health offers free, small group, classes to address the challenges of preventing and managing diabetes. To learn more about these offerings visit www.healthyms.com/diabetes
These changes become a part of our culture when Mississippians come together to support each other in making positive changes. Uproot Mississippi, a collaborative effort between nearly a hundred partner organizations across the state, works to build a culture of health in Mississippi. If you think you need help figuring out which steps are right for you, and how to take them, there are lots of individuals and communities across the state providing homegrown inspiration. Visit www.uprootms.org/ican for more information.
The ARK in Jackson: Bringing More Than Just Fitness
Exercise is a crucial part of the fight against obesity in Mississippi. But for many, finding a place to exercise is difficult. Challenges finding places to exercise in one’s community is a clear example of a social determinant of health.
Creating a healthy space is one of many reasons why New Horizon Church in Jackson opened The Ark in October. The Ark is in the vein of YMCA: more than just a gym, it’s a place for empowering people through sports and fitness. The Ark also offers a broad spectrum of education about more topics than just health. To help their community get healthy, the Ark provides multiple basketball courts, a climbing wall, spaces for weight training, cardio equipment, and meeting rooms.
As we discussed in early November, exercise is vital not just for preventing diabetes and obesity, but for managing them as well. It also has myriad benefits for other aspects of health, including balance, mobility, and mental health.
But the Ark is about more than just exercise. “Come here and dream again,” is what Dr. Adrianne L. Swinney, Executive Director, said of The Ark. “We want it to be inspiring. Visions do matter.”
Seven years ago, the Ark was a shuttered Sams warehouse that the local community had been trying to find a use for.
As part of that community, New Horizon Ministries was in a good position to help turn the old warehouse into something new and vibrant. Representative Ronnie Crudup, Jr., the Executive Director of New Horizon Ministries, worked with the ministry and the local community so that the ministry could purchase the warehouse, and transform it into the Ark.
The space and the staff currently focus on youth basketball, with three basketball courts and three basketball development specialists under the guidance of Coach Charles Lewis. The coaching team teaches children and keeps them active, instilling values and habits that can help them be healthier and happier for life. They also manage a community basketball league for youth and adults.
We asked Dr. Swinney what she would say to any community that wanted to achieve something similar in their neighborhood. “Start with a vision. Write it down, research it, identify those who want to help make it happen by investing in the vision, and find a location. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just have to get started. We started with one basketball court.” Dr. Swinney said.
And now there are three, with plans for expansion. They aim to provide more space, more events, and new facilities for different sports that kids might not otherwise be exposed to.
We’re proud to spotlight The Ark as an example of how community organizations can create better health in our state. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates on their work!
Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Contact us to get started.
Outdoor Autumn Exercise in Mississippi
Take an opportunity to go outside and exercise in the fabulous fall weather that November brings to Mississippi.
Diabetes and Exercise
Moderate physical activity is one easy step that can address obesity. Obesity is a priority for the latest State Health Improvement Plan because it can lead to a host of chronic health diseases, including diabetes. November is National Diabetes Month, so it’s a good time to spread the word that physical activity is a crucial component to preventing and managing diabetes.
It doesn’t take a lot: 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, like walking at a good pace, can lower your blood sugar and blood pressure.
Fortunately, Mississippi has a variety of good outdoor activities, no matter where you are in the state. You can check out Visit Mississippi for more ideas.
In Central Mississippi, try the Museum Trail, which covers 1.5 miles between High Street and the Pearl River in Jackson. If you keep a moderate pace and go all the way there and back again, you’ll get an hour of exercise, so if you’re only after 30 minutes, turn around after you’ve seen the murals under Fortification Street. You can park at High Street near the Farmer’s Market.
In North Mississippi, you might want to get your bike or your walking shoes and try the Tanglefoot Trail. There are a lot of starting points, with plenty of parking and a plaza in New Albany. The Tanglefoot is 43 miles long, so you probably won’t hike or bike it all at once. Check their website for more places to get on and off the trail.
When the weather in Mississippi hits that perfect balance, getting outside is a treat. You don’t even have to go anywhere special, just a walk down your street or road will do. 30 minutes a day is all it takes.
If you need some more advice, the Mississippi State Department of Health also have some ideas on how to stay active to stay healthy.
3 Ways to Build a Healthier Mississippi
UProot was developed to spark new ideas and opportunities to improve our state’s health. Read on for ways to connect to the great work happening to improve our state’s health.
Read the State Health Improvement Plan
Developed using feedback from more than 19,000 residents, public health professionals, and community partners across the state, the State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) is a great place to start when looking to build a healthier state.
It breaks down the cause and prevalence of Mississippi’s most pressing health issues, and contains actionable next steps employers, residents, educators, health-care professionals, faith-based organizations, and public health professionals can use to put the plan into action.
Here’s an example for community residents:
Notice what chronic diseases (obesity, for example) are impacting your town or community.
Check the SHIP for tips on how to improve this health issue. In this example, you could help lower obesity rates by improving food access (volunteering at a food pantry, donating to organizations that provide food to those who are low-income or on disability, or starting a neighborhood food drive or community garden).
Spread the word. Get more people involved in improving this issue to help grow more solutions for a healthier Mississippi.
Keep in mind that simply sharing, supporting, and lifting up healthy behaviors for friends and family members can have a big positive impact on our state’s health as well! Check out our resource directory to learn more about chronic diseases in your area and connect to free health management classes to boost wellness.
Join an UProot Work Group
For organizations looking to make a difference, joining one of UProot’s work groups is a great first step. Work groups meet on a monthly basis to track progress and develop new strategies for improving our state’s health. Priorities are based on the SHIP and are represented in the following focus areas:
The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)
Obesity – Youth Mentorship
Obesity – Tracking Nutrition
Obesity – Diabetes Prevention
Social Determinants of Health contribute to health disparities across the state, and can have a major impact on the prevalence of chronic diseases. By joining in this work, your organization can take action to improve the environmental conditions of Mississippians, including people of color, tribal members, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Click here for a breakdown of this priority.
There’s also work being done specifically to lower obesity rates that your organization can take part in. Since obesity is a root cause for most chronic illnesses, it is a very important issue to address at both local and state levels. Improving obesity rates alone could save Mississippi over $13 billion annually in unnecessary health care costs.
With three specific focus areas, we’re able to develop a more holistic approach to building better behaviors and lowering obesity rates. Click here to learn more about this priority and its focus areas.
See a workgroup that seems like the perfect fit for your organization? Click here to join!
Share the Wins
Whether you’re a community organization or community leader, resident or public health advocate, always share the wins! Send us the health projects or events happening in your area, and we’ll amplify them to help spread the word and inspire others to grow a healthier Mississippi. If you already have a story ready to share with us, click here to send it to us!
Start Here to Learn Everyday Wellness Tips
We all know what the new school year means for children returning to class, but there are opportunities for Mississippians of all ages to learn, too! From managing chronic diseases to improving your overall health, free classes are available with the latest information. Read on for resources that make everyday wellness easier, and prove that it’s never too late to learn something new, especially when it comes to your health.
Getting Familiar with Chronic Disease
The first step to building any health plan is getting familiar with the health conditions that impact your day-to-day life. Knowing how actions, foods, or lifestyle habits can affect your progress is essential to pin down before taking that first step.
In Mississippi, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity are the most common, and most deadly, chronic diseases for residents. Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, is the third leading cause of death for Mississippians. Diabetes affects 1 in 7 Mississippi residents, and is made worse by obesity, which affects 42% of adults in the state. Click here to learn more about these chronic conditions.
For those looking for more guidance on making healthier choices, there are free health management classes available. These aren’t bootcamps–they are programs that meet national standards and offer real, sustainable, and actionable ways to improve your day-to-day food and exercise habits. Check out this interactive site map to see what classes are available in your area!
Spread the Word
Sharing this article with someone you know–a neighbor, friend, or family member–not only helps them reach their personal health goals but can have a positive ripple effect on our state’s health. So, spread the word, share resources, and help inspire those in your network to take that first step to building healthier habits.
Ask your doctor about help enrolling in free preventive health classes. Or download this form and bring it to your nearest MSDH health center.
How the Good Samaritan Center is Growing New Possibilities for Mississippi
Our 2022 State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) identifies food insecurity as one of Mississippi’s most pressing issues and a primary cause for high obesity rates in the state. However, programs like the community gardens at The Good Samaritan Center help local residents live healthier lives. The garden, 2,000 square feet of urban greenery, serves as an example of how transformative community effort can be.
Known locally as “Good Sam,” The Good Samaritan Center has provided food assistance, clothing, and community support services to the Jackson-Metro area for over 40 years. Good Sam’s mission to create a “network of helping hands” is most evident in Midtown, a central neighborhood in the city of Jackson, where local residents and organizations work together to ensure care resources reach the people who need them most.
We spoke with Sarah Gayden Hammond, Director of Volunteers at Good Sam, and volunteers Mary Hauk and Jeannette Morgan about the gardening program and how it’s making an impact.
What inspired the Good Samaritan Center to start this program?
Hammond: As I understand it, in 2014, Kathy Clem, the CEO of the Good Samaritan Center, wrote a grant and Whole Foods fulfilled it. The original intention behind the grant was to grow produce in our garden that would supplement our pantry. There would also be a moveable kitchen and cooking component, but that component didn’t get funded. There is still the possibility of hosting a cooking experience for clients and volunteers, though, if we find the right partnership.
Hauk: Like Sarah said, the original grant focus was not very doable in the space that we had available. So from there the garden evolved to be a space for teaching and urban greening. Whatever we harvest does go into our pantry and also goes out to families in Midtown, like our seniors at Golden Key.
Were any other partners involved in getting this program started?
Hammond: Whole Foods was very involved. And also one of our long-term partners in the garden is Matt Casteel, who operates his own small business, Wurmworks, which is also in Midtown. He builds worm boxes, makes organic produce, and donates vermicompost to our garden. Actually, the vegetables that were planted this season were planted with Casteel’s vermicompost. We also worked with Mississippi Cold Brew coffee and used coffee grinds that they had donated in the back bed. That was really wonderful, and they helped us plant herbs.
What groups volunteer at the garden?
Hammond: Whenever possible, we try to bring our regular volunteers into the garden. But outside of our volunteers, we have different groups come in and spend time in the garden. We’ve planted sunflowers with Reverend Annie Elliott’s class from St. Andrew’s. St. Richards brought their second graders, and it was great seeing them. We had a youth group from UMMC Madison stop by yesterday and help us fix a bed. They also helped us tie up our tomatoes after they’d been blown down after the storm. We also have volunteers, like the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, come every Friday. So, we have many different groups volunteer and help out at the garden.
Pictured above: Volunteer students from Hinds, JSU, Millsaps, Holmes and Tougaloo
How do kids react once they’ve successfully grown produce? Has a participant ever shared what they’ve learned from the process?
Hauk: We had a group last year, from one of the local churches. And they had a whole bunch of little kids, which is always fun. I took them around on a little tour of the garden and I’m explaining what’s growing and where things are. And then 30 or 40 minutes later, a couple other kids came outside and I heard the first kids saying, ‘let me take you on a tour of the garden’.
And those kids took them around the garden and explained here’s this and here’s that and here’s the strawberry. And about 20 minutes later, more kids came out, and the second group of kids took them on a tour of the garden. So they’re finding that they’re not necessarily seeing the work through their own arc of time, but they’re seeing it through someone else’s arc.
Hammond: We use social media to make those connections. So recently the sweet tomatoes that the Millsaps Chi Os planted have borne fruit. And then we had some yellow pear tomatoes that JSU students planted go into our pantry. I was able to name the students who planted those back in March and make a Facebook post about it. In that way, they’re able to see progress in the garden and see how their effort is making a difference.
Are there any standout moments?
Morgan: There was a young woman in one of the volunteer groups that wanted to be a cook, and she was planning to go to culinary school, but she had never actually grown her own herbs. She knew that as a potential chef, though, that she would need to have that knowledge.
So she was asking questions about growing herbs and was really enjoying planting and learning about soil composition and what all was needed, especially in a container garden. There was also another time, we came across kids who were actually from farms and knew about growing, but it was a different experience using a planter and navigating a smaller garden.
Pictured above: 6th graders from St. Andrews plant sunflowers in a newly created bed.
The State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) aims to reduce food insecurity by 10% in the next five years by increasing food access and eliminating food deserts across the state. How does this program help with that effort?
Hammond: We’ve got tomatoes and peppers and okra. We have an eggplant coming along. It’s a whole rainbow of local sustainable produce! And it’s enough to help supplement our pantries now and then, and also donate to our seniors on disability.
Hammond: I think it’s a wonderful thing, and it’s like a movement to have gardens as part of an organization’s work. There are a lot of community health centers who have jumped on board, you know, with the goal of helping address food needs and help the city overall.
How can other nonprofit organizations start projects like this one? Any advice on how they can get their community involved?
Hauk: This is a great opportunity for an afterschool program because kids really love it. They love being in the garden and they love being able to get dirty. I think they love that arc too, of planting and then seeing the plant sprout and then seeing it grow and then boom–there’s a sunflower or a squash or whatever. And starting the garden doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. We use recycled pots, storage bins, whatever we can reuse to grow most of our food.
Morgan: Our ingredients are just time, volunteers, knowledge, and the ability to get dirty. Also, just wanting to do it and understanding why we do it and why it’s so important to our community. I’d say you just have to have good core volunteers and a good coordinator to lead them.
Hammond: I’ll say the first thing that you need to do is visit a garden. We’re really fortunate to have good gardens here in Mississippi, since we have a rural heritage here. We have the Mississippi Natural Science Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Ridgeland Wildflower Field. Of course, we also have our garden here at the Good Samaritan Center. But I really think when you visit a garden and you sit in that kind of space, what you want out of a garden will rise up inside of you. And then, just like that, an initiative forms and you will come in contact with people who have the knowledge and the expertise and the time to help you build the garden you’re supposed to have.
Pictured above: Volunteer missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints plant okra.
Why is this program so important to the Jackson metro area and Mississippi in general?
Hammond: Above all, I think it is a measure of community resilience. We have a lot of problems to solve in Mississippi, but we cannot solve those problems unless we have meaningful relationships with others.We solve everything through our social relationships, and I really think that when we spend time with others in a garden, we work out our own problems. We work out collective problems, we relationship-build, and we create the social network that needs to be in place for us to solve the problems that we need to solve in this state.
And that happens at the local level. You know, people try to solve problems at a really large level, but every community and every neighborhood has its own resources, its own challenges, and its own gifts, and people need to be brought together in a deep and meaningful way to make progress happen. I think a garden is part of that.
Morgan: I agree, and I think if everybody knows how to grow, just the simplest thing, it gets you started on a path of understanding the simple nature of everything. That it’s not magic, that everyone can have a garden or a beautiful front porch and enjoy it at the same time and be outside. Connect to nature, basically. And connect to the food that you eat. I hope that’s what people get from the garden.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience?
Hauk: You don’t have to start with a grand garden. You can start with a bucket and a plant.
Responses edited for brevity and clarity. Views expressed in interviews published on this site are solely those of the interviewees.
Work Plan Spotlight: What Does Internet Access Have to Do with Health?
Mississippi will receive $1.2 billion from the federal government to expand broadband service to approximately 300,000 unserved locations across the state. This exciting development will create more opportunities for communities to get the care they need, through online health services like telehealth!
Benefits of Telehealth
The 2022 State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP), developed after engaging more than 19,000 residents, public health professionals, and community partners across the state, lists telehealth as a major resource for improving preventative health access in Mississippi.
That’s because telehealth, defined in the SHIP as “the use of technology to deliver personal health information and services”, connects families to resources like telemedicine, online therapy, healthcare resource directories, and health education that make it easy to get care. It’s more effective to prevent a health crisis from occurring than it is to treat it once it’s happened.
Social Determinants of Health
The 2022 SHIP organizes its work into two big categories: reducing obesity & chronic disease and improving social determinants of health. The social determinants of health (SDOH) are the conditions and environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age.
In rural areas of the state, where residents are more likely to need treatment and preventative care for chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, broadband expansion couldn’t come sooner. Right now, nearly 20% (18.1%) of households in the Mississippi Delta have no access to broadband. As internet access becomes more available, so will telehealth services that work to improve health outcomes in these areas.
As the state closes the digital divide, we will utilize our network and partnerships to provide information on telehealth services as they become more available. Our goal is to increase the use of telehealth by at least 10% in the next five years in order to improve health outcomes in our state. We’re connecting organizations like the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Mississippi Rural Health Association to help make that happen.
Click here to learn more about the latest State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) and how you can help improve our state’s health. Then, show us how you’re improving community health by sending us your success story! Visit https://uprootms.org/contact to get started.
Q&A with Dr. Kina White
Dr. Kina White, Director of the Office of Community Health Improvement (OCHI) at the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH)
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) was recently awarded Age-Friendly Public Health Systems recognition by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). We spoke with Dr. Kina White, Director of the Office of Community Health Improvement (OCHI) at MSDH, to talk about this great achievement and learn more about efforts to make Mississippi a more age-friendly state. Read on to see what Dr. White had to share!
What is healthy aging?
If we use the World Health Organization’s definition, healthy aging is defined as the “process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age”. It enables people to be and do what they value throughout their everyday lives.
Something that’s very important to consider when we think about healthy aging is that we’re all aging. I think that there’s this misperception that healthy aging is only applicable to older adults and it is not. The goal is for all of us to healthily age in our communities.
How is MSDH working to make Mississippi more age-friendly?
Through collaboration with Trust for America’s Health, the Mississippi State Department of Health is working to advance an age-friendly ecosystem in Mississippi. The state department has adopted Trust for America’s Health’s 6 C’s framework for creating age-friendly public health systems and is using this framework to guide its work in this regard.
The “6 C’s Framework” outlined by TFAH centers on advancing health equity when developing age-friendly public health systems. Right now, we’re working to support a local university to pursue the age-friendly university designation and we’re also helping employers take on more age-friendly practices in the workplace. So with this ecosystem, Mississippi is on a path to becoming an age-friendly state where we can create a healthy community that respects all persons so that we can all healthily age.
What resources indicate that a community supports healthy aging?
There are a number of resources to indicate that a community supports healthy aging. Affordable and reliable transportation is often one the greatest community needs. If a community is able to provide transport services for older adults–whether through a community-based van service or non-emergent medical transportation–then that community is supporting healthy aging in this capacity. Proper infrastructure, like walkable sidewalks, is another example.
Another example would be adequate training for service staff–like grocery store workers or cashiers. If those staff are effectively trained to work with older adults, who may have a language barrier or communication issue, then those customers would not feel stigmatized or ashamed that their communication needs may be different from someone else’s.
It’s really about creating an environment where individuals can live and thrive and not have to relocate because the support services are not there. And it does require an elevated level of planning, communicating, and coordinating with individuals. There is also a policy element. There has to be a need for policy change in these communities to ensure that transportation or infrastructure-related policies are in place to create those community van services and safe sidewalks.
And so this work happens on multiple levels–a policy level, or it could be a systems level–or it could be an environmental level–but that work is ultimately necessary to building age-friendly communities within our state.
In your opinion, what does it mean to create a culture of health?
For me, a culture of health is one that is equitable and where all persons, all collective individuals and organizations are respective of differences and similarities. Without equity, that culture, in my opinion, is not well established or sustained.
What projects are you excited about?
We have a new initiative called “Health Aging Champions”. It’s a volunteer-based program where older adults can volunteer to support our effort to become more age friendly as a state.
Volunteers can help us learn what local communities need and how to best offer age-friendly services. This project also gives our older adults a voice at the table for a change, which is really exciting.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience?
We are proud to do this work and support all of our Mississippians as we age! I think this will be yet another great opportunity for collaboration in our state for sure.