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About 100 Coulee Region public and private health workers resolved Friday to strive to give everybody a better shot at a healthy life.

“For all we spend on health care, we should be the healthiest country on the planet,” Dan Duquette said in opening the sixth annual Health Summit of the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium at Western Technical College.

“That is not the case. We’re not even in the top 25,” said Duquette, chairman of the consortium’s Population Health Committee and head of the health education and health promotion department at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The ladder to health needs steps not only to make health care affordable and accessible but also to acknowledge that health depends as much living conditions as it on doctor and clinic visits, Duquette said.

Keynote speaker Jordan Bingham parsed the words equality and equity to illustrate that people do not have equal opportunities to attain the same levels of health.

The quest goes beyond promoting healthy habits to creating a healthy environment where people work, live and play, said Bingham, health equity coordinator for public health in Madison and Dane County.

Overcrowded or crime-ridden neighborhoods with poor housing hinder health, said La Crosse City Council member Sara Sullivan.

“Research shows that what I like to call fragile neighborhoods can be a source of chronic stress,” said Sullivan, who chairs the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Commission.

“When we eliminate the stressors of poor housing, dilapidated infrastructure and crime, we indirectly improve health equity,” she said.

Sullivan said that, besides the city’s initiative to improve neighborhoods, other efforts include:

  • ReNEW, a partnership of neighbors, nonprofit and public agencies, businesses and community members helping to improve the Powell-Poage-Hamilton and Washburn neighborhoods.
  • Community policing officers in the Washburn neighborhood and on the North Side, with financial help from Mayo Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, Viterbo University and the La Crosse Community Foundation.
  • Greater emphasis on code enforcement for rental and replacement housing.
  • The spread smoke-free programs and housing throughout the consortium’s 20-county region of western Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota and northeast Iowa.
  • “All of us want to contribute to health equity by revitalizing our neighborhoods,” Sullivan said, noting that she is working on an initiative called SAVE La Crosse, the acronym for Safe, Accountable, Vibrant and Empowerment for neighborhoods.
“When we eliminate the stressors of poor housing, dilapidated infrastructure and crime, we indirectly improve health equity.” Sara Sullivan, La Crosse City Council member

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