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FOR RELEASE: April 18, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Agency Gets Grant to "Think Differently" About Public Health

What does it take to make radical changes in how Oklahoma structures its public health system? How does such a transformation occur? And who pays for it?

The answers come in the form of Turning Point, an initiative funded in Oklahoma two years ago by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation* (RWJF) and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with renewal support recently confirmed by RWJF for a 48-month grant totaling $950,000 to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Turning Point: Building Healthy Communities in Oklahoma Through Partnerships provides local communities with the framework they need to have a stronger leadership role in shaping the public health decisions that will affect them. The project has also begun to reshape what had been a centralized system of administration to one that actively enlists community involvement.

"These changes are the result of the Oklahoma State Department of Health taking a hard look at why our state's health status continues to lose ground in comparison to the rest of the nation," said Neil Hann, project coordinator and director of the agency's Office of Public Health Innovation. "It became clear that one missing element was the direct involvement of communities in public health decisions. If communities are not engaged in determining their own public health needs as well as solutions to those needs, then improvement in community health will not be realized."

Hann said as a result of the Turning Point process, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has begun to: accept recommendations from the previously untapped expertise of physicians, educators, business leaders, the faith community and others; find ways to share resources among agencies at the state and local level; use available public health resources differently with greater flexibility at the local level; and accept accountability for outcomes of public health decisions at both the state and local levels.

In pilot projects initiated by local Turning Point partnerships in three counties, the results include the nation's first public health trust authority in Cherokee County; a public health planning process in Texas County that resulted in a new transit system and new housing ordinances to protect the public's health; and increased support among Tulsa's business community for public health in Tulsa County.

Hann said the lessons learned from these early Turning Point experiences will be put into practice as Turning Point expands across the state to assure community-based input in public health decisions. "State and local partners will learn to trust each other and take those risks that are going to be necessary to advance healthy communities," he emphasized. "We are excited about this opportunity to expand the Turning Point initiative across Oklahoma."

For more information about Oklahoma's Turning Point project, visit its Web site at www.health.state.ok.us/partners/index.html.


*Note to Editors: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grantmaking in three goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost; to improve care and support for people with chronic health conditions; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse, including tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.


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