Guest Blog: Beach Cities Health District

Guest Blog post by:

Susan Burden pic
Susan Burden
Chief Executive Officer
Beach Cities Health District
 

 

 

How did you first get involved in healthcare?

More than twenty-five years in traditional healthcare management flew by before I became aware of the existence of a Healthcare District.  For someone who had been in the trenches of clinical management, hospitals and corporate development, it came as a bit of a surprise.  Initially, I received a call from a recruiter who asked me if I would be interested in talking to Beach Cities Health District.  This was the first time I had ever heard of a Healthcare District, and the more I learned, the happier I became.  Throughout a series of weeks, I began to understand what a Healthcare District was and what this particular District had been involved with.  I was struck by the thought that a healthcare organization could be solely focused on community health.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

During my twenty-five years of management experience, I’ve lived through the on-boarding of managed care, massive healthcare layoffs and changes in expectations.  Also during this time, large segments of the population were making fast food and a sedentary lifestyle their daily existence.  As these two elements combined, the healthcare system began to fracture, and the caring of people has quickly become the business of caring.  I believe by focusing our national energy and resources on the sickest of the population, without a balanced investment in community health, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner.

How does your District meet the community’s needs?

One of the merits of being painted into this national corner of prolonged illness and unaffordable expenses is that community health is getting a serious look.  During the last nine years, I have watched as the body of evidence for community health strategies has grown.  Our elected board sets health priorities based on the health status of our community. All of our services fit within the board-approved framework, which is based on research.  From this work, we develop health priorities for each age group.   We now have over twenty community projects running to increase community health.  We often talk about “cradle to grave” prevention, and more than forty percent of our budget is spent on keeping our kids healthy.  We have also worked to keep seniors healthy in their homes for the last 19 years.  Reaching working adults has been our biggest challenge.

What is your District best known for?

Two years ago, we started an initiative called “Blue Zones Project” with a private health corporation, Healthways, in part to see if we could reach the adult population. The project has been an innovative effort to see if we could “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”  We have worked with the cities, schools and community to change the environment we live in to better support health.  We have a great partner in Gallup Polls, which oversees our measurement.  We found out that this type of work can be successful and that the community will embrace it.  We have established dozens of new walking groups; new biking and walking infrastructure creation is underway; restaurants are developing healthier menus; and schools are becoming models to support children’s health.  In addition, all of our cities are adopting policies that promote a healthier community.  We are really at the beginning of this work, and we have much more to do.

Susan Burden garden pic

*Picture of children harvesting vegetables from their school garden.

Contact Susan Burden here.

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