Health Department Aims To Improve Oklahomans' Health With Federal Grant

Tuesday, September 11th 2012, 8:20 pm

Oklahoma is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, ranking 48th in health outcomes. But now, Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County are spending some big bucks to change that.

The federal government, as part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, has set aside $10 billion for health care prevention. Oklahoma City received a big chunk of that money, $790,000 a year for five years.

Since April, Michael Baily has been hitting the streets in Oklahoma City's poorest neighborhood. He's out visiting barber shops, and anywhere else recruiting those with a high risk of heart disease.

"What I tell people is I encourage them if you're in the age group and you live in this area, go to the clinic, have the test for free, then find out," Bailey said.

Terri Long was one of his first takers. She had a history of strokes, and had a 30 percent blockage removed in February.

"I was trying to cope with it, my blood pressure was 210 over 160, I didn't have insurance or anything, no medication," she recalled.

Through the program, she received a free screening to qualify and now gets free doctor visits and free prescriptions to manage her heart disease.

"It has saved my life, my prayers were answered when Michael Bailey walked into the store that day," Long said.

"Prevention will give you a lot better return than a doctor's office or an emergency room," said Gary Cox, director of the Oklahoma County health department.

Cox said the cost of one year of the program is just about equal to the cost of one heart attack.

The Oklahoma City/ County Health Department's efforts are focused on the 73111 zip code where 10 percent more people die of heart disease than in the healthiest neighborhood in the City.

"When you're concerned about eating, transportation, getting a job then your health kind of takes a back seat," Bailey said.

In addition to the "My Heart, My Health, My Family" program, efforts are also underway to get residents to quit using tobacco, eat healthy, and use do more physical activity.

To encourage that, a regional health and wellness center is going up in the zip code with walking trails and classrooms.

"It's just unacceptable that we have such poor outcomes in Oklahoma and Oklahoma County," Cox said.

Of course there are concerns about spending that kind of money.

"The Prevention and Public Health Fund empowers Secretary Sebelius and HHS with a $13.6 billion slush fund with no accountability or oversight on how taxpayer dollars are spent," said Congressman James Lankford (R) Oklahoma in a statement on Tuesday. "In a day of skyrocketing debt and widespread frustration with the President's healthcare law, HHS should not have a blank check from taxpayers to control healthcare decisions that should be made between medical experts and their patients."