Bridgewater Hosts “Stone Soup Day” for Fruits & Veggies – More Matters Month

October 4, 2016
Rebecca Perkins

On Saturday, Sept 24, Bridgewater Township hosted a family event In recognition of Fruits and Veggies –More Matters Month and in support of the Jersey Fresh Campaign. The event featured activities for children, including story time and crafts projects, as well as healthy nutrition displays and tastings of vegetable soup and fresh fruit and veggie sampling.  The day’s activities were held in the park at the Bridgewater Municipal Complex.

Bridgewater is one of three selected municipalities in Healthier Somerset’s NJHCN grant. Serena Collado, community health director at RWJ Somerset and Healthier Somerset convener, hosted an exhibit and spoke on the importance of incorporating fruits and vegetables into a daily diet (5 a Day) and highlighted farmers markets in the area.

Serena distributed 25 farmers markets vouchers and produce bags that we distribute at our presentations.

Healthier Somerset congratulates Bridgewater Mayor Dan Hayes, Bridgewater health officers, and all those who planned and participated in this great family event!

Bridgewater Mayor Dan Hayes welcomes The Green Planet Band, who performed at the event. Members of the band are Kylee Rapp – 10 years old – Guitar and Vocals Tyler Rapp – 8 years old – Drums Anna Rapp –  8 years old – Bass Guitar.  Tyler and Anna are twins.

 

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October is Healthier Somerset Month

Rebecca Perkins, Healthier Somerset
myCentralJersey.com
September 26, 2016

Healthier Somerset Proclamation -- October is Healthier Somerset MonthAll community members are invited to join with Healthier Somerset to raise awareness of good health practices.

The Somerset County Board of Freeholders has named October “Healthier Somerset Month” in Somerset County. This month we invite all who live or work in Somerset County to join us as we raise awareness of good health practices.

Healthier Somerset is open to all because a healthy community produces benefits for everyone.  Individuals improve their lives and wellbeing with good health habits. Employers save on healthcare costs and absenteeism while benefiting from improved productivity and performance.  Communities enjoy enhanced economic benefits from the desirability of a location where people want to live and work.

Healthier Somerset is unique in that it is the only organization in Somerset County where everyone who has an interest in health convenes. The coalition is comprised not only of organizations whose primary focus is health, such as nonprofit healthcare organizations, public health officials, and healthcare providers, but also businesses, schools, government, and faith-based organizations.

The organization has grown since its founding in 2010 because our partners see the value of collaboration and networking. One of the greatest benefits is connecting our partners with others who are often working toward the same goals but would not otherwise meet in a common space to share information and ideas.

Healthier Somerset is also unique among health coalitions in that our agenda links public policy and economic development to health. For Somerset County, good health is also good business.

We have a rich legacy as home to many global pharmaceutical companies, and we remain a strong presence in New Jersey with a growing concentration of health research, biotech, and small pharma organizations. Our economic future is based on health and wellness.

Our government partners understand that health outcomes are part of every aspect of decision making in our municipalities and in the county. Our shared goal is to become the healthiest county in New Jersey, and our elected officials and our administrators incorporate this goal across departments.

Somerset County’s health goals are documented in the 2016-2019 Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). The CHIP is the most comprehensive report available on the health of our county, and it lays out a three-year, county-wide commitment to Somerset County’s health improvement priorities: mental health and substance abuse; obesity; chronic care; and access to healthcare.

“Healthier Somerset Month” will be marked by a focus on our partners and the work they are doing, with special health and wellness events throughout October.

Two major events are the Somerset County Business Partnership’s Second Annual Workplace Health & Wellness Exposition on Thursday, Oct. 13, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 270 Davidson Ave., Somerset, section of Franklin, and the Healthier Somerset Employer Wellness Breakfast on Monday, Oct. 24, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the AVE Somerset, 199 Pierce Street, Somerset section of Franklin.

More information about these events, and about Healthier Somerset, can be found on the website at www.healthiersomerset.org We invite you to celebrate “Healthier Somerset Month” by joining our mission to become the healthiest county in New Jersey.

Rebecca Perkins is the project manager for Healthier Somerset.

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North Plainfield Passes Resolution Supporting Complete Streets!

Rebecca Perkins
September 7, 2016

Congratulations, North Plainfield!  The borough is the first of our three targeted municipalities to adopt a resolution of support for Complete Streets. The resolution states that new construction and reconstruction of all public roads shall be designed and constructed as Complete Streets whenever it is feasible to do so in order to accommodate travel by pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, and motorized vehicles and their passengers, with special attention given to pedestrians.

David Hollod, North Plainfield Business Administrator, noted that North Plainfield has always been conscious of pedestrian safety.  “North Plainfield is a very walkable community.  We’re very aggressive in keeping our sidewalks and roads maintained, and we try to encourage walking throughout the borough.”

Hollod cited the borough’s participation in “Safe Routes to School,” a statewide initiative to enable and encourage students to safely walk and bicycle to school, and a current program to install sidewalks on a portion of U.S. Route 22 that passes through the borough, as examples of North Plainfield’s commitment.

North Plainfield will now receive $2,000 to purchase bicycle racks. Hollod said that the NJHCN grant was a key factor in the decision. “Grant funding for bike racks for the borough was an incentive for us, and helped us make the decision to act,” he said.

Healthier Somerset congratulates North Plainfield on its commitment to Complete Streets and to a healthier community!

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Healthier Somerset combats obesity and chronic disease

Rebecca Perkins, Healthier Somerset
myCentralJersey.com
August 30, 2016

SOMERSET COUNTY – In 2015, Healthier Somerset partnered with ShapingNJ and the New Jersey Department of Health to combat obesity and chronic disease in Somerset County. The organization was awarded a $12,000 grant to educate targeted communities on the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet.

Partners in the grant presented seminars in Manville, Bound Brook, and Somerville showing how to make easy summer meals with fresh fruit and produce found at farmers markets.  We also focused on “Complete Streets,” a state program designed to encourage safe access for all roadway users.  All three of our targeted communities have passed a resolution agreeing to adopt Complete Streets principles in their planning.

This year, Healthier Somerset is continuing this work with a grant from Atlantic Health System and the NJ Healthy Communities Network. The $20,000 grant covers two years of activity, and Healthier Somerset is again focusing on nutrition and physical activity, expanding the successful program to Bridgewater, Green Brook, and North Plainfield.

As part of our program to encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles in these communities, Healthier Somerset is planning the first of the nutrition seminars that are a key focus of our NJHCN grant activities.

NJ SNAP Ed will plan and implement the seminars. The brief mini-lessons include tips on increasing fresh fruit and vegetable access.  Other topics cover the importance of reducing sugary drinks in our daily diets. An informative display is set up at the site, and clientele are engaged in the lesson through hands-on participation.

The North Plainfield seminars will be offered in two locations:  the offices of the North Plainfield Board of Social Services and the North Plainfield Saint Vincent DePaul Food Pantry.

Attendees at the seminars will receive vouchers toward the purchase of fruits, vegetables, and eggs with selected vendors at a farmers market.

This project could not be completed with the collaboration and support of numerous partners.  In addition to NJ SNAP Ed, we are grateful for the participation of Bridgewater Department of Health, EmPoWER Somerset, Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission, Morris-Somerset Regional Chronic Disease Coalition, RideWise TMA, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, Somerset County Department of Health, and Somerset County Planning Division.

Healthier Somerset congratulates the borough of North Plainfield, the first of the three municipalities to adopt a “Complete Streets” policy.  They will now receive bike racks for their municipality.

The power of partnership has proven to be the key factor in building success for all of Healthier Somerset’s projects. We invite all Somerset County nonprofit organizations, businesses, schools, and agencies to partner with us in the coming months as we continue in our mission to make Somerset County the healthiest county in New Jersey. For more information, visit www.healthiersomerset.org.

Rebecca Perkins is the project manager for Healthier Somerset.

 

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Healthier Somerset Readies Nutrition Seminars in North Plainfield

Rebecca Perkins
July 29, 2016

As part of our program to encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles in Bridgewater, Green Brook, and North Plainfield, Healthier Somerset is planning the first of the nutrition seminars that are a key focus of our NJHCN grant activities.

NJ SNAP Ed will plan and implement the seminars. The brief mini-lessons include tips on increasing fresh fruit and vegetable access.  Other topics cover the importance of reducing sugary drinks in our daily diets. An informative display is set up at the site, and clientele are engaged in the lesson through hands-on participation.

The North Plainfield seminars will be offered in two locations:  the offices of the North Plainfield Board of Social Services and the North Plainfield Saint Vincent DePaul Food Pantry.

Preparation for the seminars included establishing contacts and gaining interest from the sites.   Since our grant requires that we provide nutrition education to low income audiences, the sites needed to sign a MOU confirming that more than 50% of their clientele are at or below 185% of the poverty guideline.

Plans are also underway to offer vouchers to attendees for use with selected vendors in nearby farmers markets.

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Healthier Somerset seeks to improve access to healthcare

Rebecca Perkins, Healthier Somerset
myCentralJersey.com
July 25, 2016

Healthier Somerset, a coalition of businesses, schools, non-profit organizations, healthcare providers, government, and faith-based organizations, is responsible for Somerset County’s Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP.)  The plan is a response to a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), a process that uses quantitative and qualitative methods to systematically collect and analyze data to understand health within a specific community.

The 2016-2019 CHIP identified four priority areas: mental health and substance abuse; obesity; chronic disease; and access to care.  The first three areas are easily understood, but access to care covers a range of issues.

Many people live in communities that lack healthcare services. Rural and inner city areas are often understaffed, so patients may have to wait for appointments or travel long distances to see their healthcare providers.

The ability to pay for healthcare is a major barrier for many people in this country, and especially for New Jersey residents.  Although low-income patients are entitled to receive healthcare benefits through Medicaid, it’s often difficult to find a provider who accepts Medicaid benefits. In a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, just 38.7 percent of New Jersey physicians said they accepted new Medicaid patients in 2013 — far below the national average of nearly 69 percent. New Jersey is the only state where fewer than half of the doctors accepted new Medicaid patients.

Low-income patients often have difficulty with transportation, either because of lack of a vehicle or lack of access to public transportation, so finding a provider and scheduling a visit may take careful planning. It’s also hard to coordinate time off from work.

READ: Healthier Somerset celebrates six years of moving forward

READ: Healthier Somerset finalizes community health improvement plan

READ: U.S. Attorney General speaks about tolerance and acceptance

Cultural characteristics may provide another barrier to accessing healthcare. Non-English-speaking patients may not be able to communicate well, but language is often not the only problem.  Not all cultures speak frankly about their health, even to their providers.  Offering a native speaker to interpret can help not only with the language, but also with an understanding of the medical issues that would not otherwise come about.

Treating health issues in the LGBT population is another area that is acclimating to the demands from a more openly diverse community. According to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, social determinants affecting the health of LGBT individuals largely relate to oppression and discrimination.

Examples include legal discrimination in access to health insurance, employment, housing, marriage, adoption, and retirement benefits; lack of laws protecting against bullying in schools; lack of social programs targeted to and/or appropriate for LGBT youth, adults, and elders; and shortage of health care providers who are knowledgeable and culturally competent in LGBT health.

This discrimination takes a severe toll on health. LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide and are more likely to be homeless. Lesbians and bisexual females are less likely to get preventive services for cancer and are more likely to be overweight or obese. And LGBT populations overall have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use.

The CHIP Task Force on Access to Care hopes to improve the access to and awareness of health care services for those living and working in Somerset County, including underserved populations, by increasing the utilization of existing primary care services in Somerset County; creating a network of Community Health Workers who represent the diverse populations in our community; and Increasing opportunities to address barriers to health insurance navigation for underserved community members.

The 2016-2019 CHIP is available on the Healthier Somerset website (www.HealthierSomerset.org ). We invite all organizations who share our goal of a healthier Somerset County to join the coalition.

Rebecca Perkins is the project manager for Healthier Somerset

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Healthier Somerset celebrates six years of moving forward

Rebecca Perkins, Healthier Somerset
myCentralJersey.com
June 27, 2016

Coalition members work collaboratively to improve the health and well-being of all who live and work in Somerset County

Healthier Somerset, a coalition of businesses, schools, non-profit organizations, healthcare providers, government, and faith-based organizations, was formed six years ago to work collaboratively to improve the health and well-being of all who live and work in Somerset County. By sharing information and creating alliances among individuals and organizations who are working toward mutual goals, efforts to create a healthier Somerset County are strengthened and more likely to succeed.

Healthier Somerset is unique because of our recognition that the health of Somerset County residents has a direct bearing upon our physical, emotional, and economic well-being.  Because of this, the coalition brings together government and the private sector as well as many nonprofit health organizations.

It’s this collaboration across sectors that sets Healthier Somerset apart from other outstanding coalitions across the state and across the country.  And to Somerset County’s credit, health has become the driving factor in County planning and economic development.

Health has always been big business in Somerset County. Many of the global pharmaceutical companies were headquartered or had a major presence here.  Now, big pharma has been augmented by many small pharma and biotech companies.  Life sciences are an integral part of Somerset County’s economy.

Given its importance to our fiscal bottom line, that’s even more reason to make health a priority.  And consider how that’s being done:

  • Somerset County’s Regional Center Partnership (Somerville, Raritan, and part of Bridgewater) is implementing a Healthy Communities strategy that will lead to the design and building of environments that will encourage increased physical activity and provide more choices for healthier living.
  • Somerset County government actively promotes wellness among its employees, earning statewide recognition for its program. Earlier this month, the County was named a “Healthcare Hero” by NJBiz.
  • Workplace wellness is a core message of Somerset County Business Partnership. Their Workplace Wellness Committee offers education and training throughout the year, with an annual Wellness Fair in October.

This focus on health in Somerset County has happened by design. Healthier Somerset is proud to partner with these organizations, and we believe that our coalition has helped to create a climate that encourages and promotes these activities. Since our inception, we have always focused on these goals:

  • Engage Somerset County in active participation in good health habits
  • Increase access to choices that promote health lifestyles; and
  • Promote policy changes that improve the health and well-being of all who live and work in Somerset County.

Ultimately, the greatest reward of this focus will be an improvements in the county’s overall health. In the six years since Healthier Somerset was formed, our overall ranking increased from the third healthiest county in New Jersey to the secnd healthiest county.  The second healthiest ranking in 2014 was the highest ranking Somerset County has ever achieved, and the ranking was retained in 2015. In 2016 we ranked second in “healthy behaviors” and were ranked third overall.

Healthier Somerset continues to grow with new partners coming on board.  We welcome all organizations who share our goals, even if health is not the major mission of the organization, such as faith-based communities and organizations that represent minorities in our community. More information is available on the Healthier Somerset website at www.Healthiersomerset.org.

Rebecca Perkins is the project manager for Healthier Somerset.

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Local Health Departments Recognized for Improving Employee Health

Stephanie Carey
May 23, 2016
Greater Somerset Public Health Partnership

The Greater Somerset Public Health Partnership has used the NJHCN initiative to help expand Employee Wellness programs in three municipalities.

The Local Health Departments in Hillsborough, Bernards, and Montgomery Townships have advocated   to embed  new Employee Wellness Policies into township-wide personnel policies.  This gives concrete guidance to future policy-makers that the Townships will engage in a “Culture of Wellness” as part of their way of doing business, over the long term. These policies are helping increase access to screenings; provide low cost physical activity programs,  and provide easier access to  fresh produce.

I’m excited to report that Healthier Somerset has recognized all three Townships with their 2016 “Healthy Workplace Award”. Healthier Somerset’s reach with the business and health care sectors gives us a wonderful vehicle to launch a template to promote Employee Wellness among local businesses, and build relationships with business and stakeholders.

Our local elected officials are on board—we are promoting our employee wellness events with branding from the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign. It’s a great chance to bring our communities together, and encourage a little healthy competition.  This kind of promotion shines a spotlight on Wellness, and provides a roadmap for our neighbors on how to reproduce success.

This has been a great morale booster for our employees. Over 25% of Montgomery’s  employees were screened within the first month of our employee wellness program.  In Bernards, at least 40 families are getting more fruits and vegetable in their diet with a new farm share provider.   Hillsborough is adding a yoga program to reduce workplace stress and improve productivity.  Making these programs into workplace policy helps “Make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice” for those who serve our community.

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Healthier Somerset is Ready for Spring

Rebecca Perkins
May 4, 2016

Healthier Somerset is building upon the successes and lessons learned from our 2015 ShapingNJ grant that focused on nutrition through the purchase of healthy foods at farmers markets and increased physical activity through the expansion of “Complete Streets” in Somerset County municipalities. In this two-year partnership with New Jersey Healthy Communities Network, we will expand those activities to three more Somerset County municipalities — Bridgewater, Green Brook, and North Plainfield.

Our partners in this effort are the Bridgewater Health Department; Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission; Morris-Somerset Regional Chronic Disease Coalition; New Jersey Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education; Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset; and Somerset County Department of Health. We are also working closely with municipal and county elected officials, administrators, and planners.

We chose to focus on these municipalities because they are contiguous communities (along Route 22), yet they offer three distinctly different types of communities. North Plainfield, with a large walkable downtown, is the most urban of the three. Green Brook is divided by Route 22 and contains separate neighborhoods, with some offering sidewalks and walkable communities while others are in more suburban neighborhoods. Bridgewater is one of Somerset County’s largest municipalities and contains many distinctive separate neighborhoods but no central downtown.

Only North Plainfield currently offers a farmers market, and team members have begun discussions in Bridgewater and Green Brook to put farmers markets in place. We are focusing on 2017 for these programs. We are currently scouting locations for the nutrition programs that will be offered and contacting vendors in the North Plainfield farmers market for participation in our program this year.

Similarly, our efforts to encourage the three towns to adopt “Complete Streets” resolutions have begun with discussions with local and county health and planning officials. All have expressed interest, and we believe that the county support for the program will be helpful.

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Making “Farm to Table” into “Farm to Go”

Stephanie Carey
March 1, 2016
Greater Somerset Public Health Partnership

It’s rush hour. The kids are hungry, just picked up from day care. It’s been a day full of hassles and I have no idea what to make for dinner. Time to hit the drive through?

In New York City, the “Green Cart” initiative has been a great success in increasing access to fresh produce for busy New Yorkers. How do we translate this success to working families in a car-centered New Jersey suburb? How do we create a policy to encourage a healthy alternative to drive-through?

Welcome to Farmers Market on a Truck.

At first, this seemed like a bizarre concept. But talking to our partners, I heard nostalgic stories—“I remember when the vegetable truck used to come to our neighborhood…”

So, Local Health Departments in the Greater Somerset area are teaming up to put Farmer’s Markets on the back of a truck. We are teaming up with local farmers to make “farm-to–table” into “Farm-to-Go”.

Four municipalities–Bernards, Bridgewater, Hillsborough, and Montgomery—are waiving fees for Mobile Food Vendors who commit to selling fresh produce. These fees can add up to hundreds of dollars, especially as a food truck travels from town to town.

Our local farmers want to expand and build a customer base for locally grown produce. Our towns want to encourage farmland preservation, and that requires someplace to sell their produce.

We are partnering with local day care centers, affordable housing sites, and community centers to host the Mobile Farm Market at dismissal/arrival times, when the temptation for quick and easy dinner is at its peak.

Local Health officials know that there are a lot of food trucks on the road selling unhealthy foods. Food trucks have become something of a cultural phenomenon. As policy makers, we can use this project to nudge them toward a healthier menu. We’re aiming to have four healthy food or produce trucks on the road this summer. But even if we just get people talking about it, and build enthusiasm, that’s a “win”.

The Greater Somerset Public Health Partnership is a collaboration of the local health departments and partner agencies serving Somerset County (and parts of Mercer & Morris Counties).

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