Dick Schafrath, head of the Ohio Department of Health's Healthy Ohio, Healthy Communities campaign, knows and likes the Mahoning Valley.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Dick Schafrath swept through the Mahoning Valley preaching his message of healthy living with the same determination and enthusiasm he once used as an offensive tackle clearing the way for Cleveland Browns running backs.
Schafrath is a former Ohio state senator for the 19th District and now is executive director for the Ohio of Department of Health's Healthy Ohio, Healthy Communities campaign.
On Thursday, he visited schools and health care facilities and agencies in Mahoning and Trumbull counties to learn about the initiatives and programs under way here to advance residents' health and well being, and came away impressed.
Visited before: Schafrath, who said he has visited the Mahoning Valley several times in past years, called the community a "special place" where people are proud of their ethnic heritage and traditions and understand the value of working together.
Referring to his football days, Schafrath, in an interview at the President's Loge at Youngstown State University's Penguins Stadium, likened the fight to improve Ohioans' health to being on a football team.
"I trusted and respected and loved my teammates and would fight for them," he said.
Partnerships needed: Similarly, partnerships need to be formed at the grassroots level, such as the Health Valley Alliance here, to enhance peoples' health and well being. The ODH wants to support programs that are working, such as Health Valley, and young people he met here who are involved in the National Youth Sports Program, he said.
While here, on the eve of a community seminar today, Partnerships for a Health Valley-Progress and Opportunities, at YSU, he visited Springfield Elementary School, the Austintown Office of the Mahoning County District Board of Health, Youngstown City Board of Health and Forum Health Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland.
Schafrath noted that five of the six leading causes of death in Ohio can be directly linked to lifestyle issues such as diet, tobacco use and lack of physical activity.
Statewide effort: The former professional football player said the aim of Healthy Ohio, Healthy Communities is to change these statistic through a statewide initiative to increase awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles and healthy choices.
Schafrath said his strategy is to put fragmented people and communities back together and give them incentives, in the form of grants and challenges, to work together to improve health.
Keynote speakers for today's seminar at YSU were Dr. Carol E. Allen, a registered nurse and president emeritus of the American Public Health Association; and Dr. J. Nick Baird, director of the Ohio Department of Health. Allen will speak about improving health and eliminating health disparities in Ohio, and Baird will present a health status report card for Ohio.