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Strategic Plan 2014-17 Healthy People, Healthy Communities
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Overview

Population Health: A long-term commitment to prevention and health promotion

Focusing on Population Health involves a long-term vision and commitment toward improving the overall health of the population. It emphasizes promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing health problems rather than focusing only on treating illnesses.  It also requires polishing the “lens” through which programs and services are viewed to ensure they are meeting community needs, especially for the most vulnerable populations such as the frail elderly and individuals with low incomes. 

The rationale for increasing the emphasis on Population Health is clear, particularly from the extensive data collected through Eastern Health’s Health Status Report 2012. This region and this province have some of the poorest lifestyle practices and health indicators in the country, including physical inactivity, overweight/obesity, low fruit and vegetable consumption and high rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.  The research is also clear on the long-term implications of such lifestyle practices and underlines the urgency to chart a new course. On an individual level, there is a burden of coping with a chronic disease such as costly medications or missed days at work/school.  For the overall health system, it is costly to treat potentially avoidable diseases through such aspects as repeated visits to health professionals or lengthy hospital stays. 

Choosing Population Health as a Strategic Issue for Eastern Health entails changing the way the organization currently functions – to lead change and shift the focus from treating illness to preventive measures that focus on healthy living. It requires strong leadership and a long-term commitment throughout all parts of the organization, as many of the interventions that are put in place today may not bring about major changes to the overall health of the population until years down the road. Certainly, there are numerous initiatives pertaining to Population Health that are currently underway within Eastern Health, such as the Chronic Disease Prevention and Management Strategy and the Health Promotion Plan; however, a stronger coordination of efforts across the organization and with stakeholders will help to achieve optimal results. 
 
There are many competing priorities for limited resources and it is very difficult to focus on long-term benefits when more immediate needs are presented. Furthermore, there are many factors affecting the health of individuals and communities – many of which are outside the control of Eastern Health – such as income, housing, education, employment, and the physical environment.  These factors are known as the “Determinants of Health” and they inter-relate with many social issues and community stakeholders, including schools, municipal, provincial and federal governments, private industry and not-for-profit organizations.  Indeed, everyone has a role to play in the health of their communities and strong partnerships are required to address common concerns. 
 
Individuals also have a key role to play in managing their own health and taking precautions to reduce the risk of illness, such as participating in screening programs. 

Eastern Health is working toward improving the overall health of the population in collaboration with the clients it serves and its many community partners. As well, continued focus on the Chronic Disease Prevention and Management Strategy, the Health Status Report and cancer screening programs will provide evidenced-based approaches and interventions to improve the health of the region and province.

This priority supports and contributes to the Provincial Government’s Strategic Direction 1: Population Health (PDF). This entails its focus areas of Cancer Care, Chronic Disease Management, Healthy Aging and Healthy Living.

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Updated Jan 6, 2015