The Grays Harbor Board of Commissioners recently voted to support a Blue Zone assessment led by Summit Pacific Medical Center to study whether a holistic, community-wide commitment to better health would work in the area.
According to John Elsner, Summit’s director of development and community relations, “Blue Zones Project is an initiative that helps communities make healthy choices that improve the lives of participants and the overall quality of life within a community”.
The commission voted 2-1 to pay Sharecare Inc., the parent company of Blue Zones LLC, for the study. The county’s contribution of $25000 along with a $25000 grant from UnitedHealthcare, would cover the $50,000 price tag of the assessments. Blue Zones representative will visit Gray’s Harbor to gauge the community’s tendency to benefit from the proposal.
Elsner talked about the new evaluation, saying, “It is essential that the community in general (and its strategic stakeholders in particular) be committed to improving the health and wellbeing of the community for Blue Zones to take on the project. This would include working in partnership to address issues in education, healthcare, infrastructure, transportation, food distribution, etc.”
Grays Harbor Commissioners, Vickie Raines and Randy Ross, voted in the favor of the assessment. According to Raines, “It may be something that doesn’t do well. But we need to look at it.” Ross continued, “We’re now No. 36 out of 39 counties (in terms of health). My biggest concern is it’s another $25,000 above our general fund budget. I’m looking at this as an investment in the future and am hoping it will pay off.”
Commissioner Wes Cormier was the only one who voted against the fund for Blue Zone due to the large amount of expenses that comes with it. He cited the company’s efforts in Iowa, which were supported by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield for $25 million over five years. When the insurers pulled out of the program, the local governments were handed with a huge bill – leading to several governments opting out.
Sara Mentzer, coordinator for Be Well Marion told The Gazette, “Blue Zones gave us a strong foundation, but the cost was outside what we were willing to pay to continue”.
Blue Zone worker will now study the county and its ability to benefit and pay for Blue Zones offerings, for around six to eight weeks, after which the actual process will begin.
About Blue Zones
Blue Zones refer to the regions of the world where people live much longer than average – generally more than a 100 years. Dan Buettner – founder of Blue Zone LLC, identified five regions that belonged to the “Blue zone”: Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Icaria (Greece) and Loma Linda (California).
The concept grew out of demographic work done by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, outlined in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology. As the two men studied the regions with the highest longevity, they drew concentric blue circles on the map, hence the name “Blue Zones”.
According to Summit Pacific’s Elsner, “The philosophy is that strategic small changes can have a big impact. The Blue Zones team is currently working with 49 communities around the United States and has extensive experience working with local communities to better understand what initiatives will have the greatest impact in their community.”