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Hospitals lead ‘Healthy Neighborhoods’ initiative

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hospitals have a lot of jobs — and food trays — to fill, and there is a new push among major Albuquerque institutions to tap into more local sources to do it.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and Presbyterian Healthcare Services are joining a series of other local entities on a new collaboration called Healthy Neighborhoods Albuquerque, an effort to improve the community’s health beyond providing medical care. Dr. Richard Larson, the partnership’s organizer and the Health Sciences Center’s executive vice chancellor, said the goal is to address the other factors that play into an individual’s health, like employment and education.

“It’s a three-legged stool of hiring locally, buying locally and supporting the startup c01_jd_18aug_researchand growth of local businesses in the communities that need them the most,” Larson said in an interview. “When you do that, the health of those communities should improve because their social and economic status improves and over time we’ll have healthier neighborhoods. In fact, we would see some of our health care costs would even decrease as a result.”

The hospitals could, for example, start buying their salad-bar vegetables from local farmers and use area schools to teach basic job skills so that their entry-level workers — such as those in janitorial or food service positions — are more likely to succeed and therefore advance to better positions, Larson said.

Other collaboration partners include the City of Albuquerque, Central New Mexico Community College, Albuquerque Public Schools, First Choice Community Health Care and the Albuquerque Community Foundation.

Larson said the program is based on something similar he and Health Sciences Chancellor Paul Roth saw on a visit to Cleveland. Albuquerque is working with the same nonprofit consultant, the Democracy Collaborative, to implement similar programs. The goal is to have some programs in place by 2017.

“If we really want to make a change in the trajectory of our communities, of our populations and of our state of New Mexico, it means we have to embrace this idea of social determinants of health and disease,” Roth said during a news conference Tuesday.

Roth said he’s particularly excited about customized training programs through APS that will prepare students for employment. He said the Health Sciences Center — which employs more than 10,000 people — and other “anchor institutions” combine to have thousands of jobs available each year.

Large employers have long relied on the local workforce to fill entry-level jobs, Larson said, but special programs could help potential candidates excel in them by covering basic workplace skills and expectations — even something as simple as punctuality.

“Once they had that training we would hire into our hospital and hopefully put them on a career path where they could turn some of the basic entry-level jobs up to becoming a coder or biller,” Larson said.

Presbyterian will focus on ways to get more people to eat healthy, local food, according to President and CEO Jim Hinton. The health care system has already made moves in that direction, hosting growers’ markets on its campuses and doling out “prescriptions” for fresh fruits and vegetables that patients can redeem at local farmers’ markets.

Buying more local food will probably be a key component of the local Healthy Neighborhoods push, said Democracy Collaborative’s co-founder and president, Ted Howard. But he pointed to other ways big institutions can boost their local economy. In Cleveland, for example, a major hospital was trucking 20 million pounds of laundry each year to a contractor 45 miles a way. It agreed to redirect 3-4 million pounds to a new cooperative laundry created in Cleveland that now employs 50 people, most of whom were previously unemployed and some of whom were returning to the workforce after incarceration.

“These big anchor institutions are really important. They’re often the biggest employers in the city (and) they’re huge purchasers of goods and services, so if you can reorient that you can really make something happen,” Howard said.

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