Community health is a field of public health that focuses on studying, protecting or improving health within a community. It does not focus on a group of people with the same shared characteristics, like age or diagnosis, but on all people within a geographical location or involved in the specific activity.

Community health is affecting more and more about how the world does business. The U.S. spends $3 trillion on healthcare, more than any country in the world, only to be behind on most health rankings. US businesses lose $225 billion to sick and absent workers each year. 

Employee health affects employers and here are a few examples according to the American Heart Association:

• Obesity raises an employee's healthcare costs by 27 percent;

• Stroke leads to an average of 20 lost work days per year per patient;

• High blood pressure raises an employee’s healthcare costs by 33 percent;

• Physical inactivity costs employers $9.1 billion per year.

The community in which an individual lives can greatly shape his or her behavior and ability to thrive. Health outcomes are affected by various community conditions and environmental factors, such as neighborhood safety, access to healthy food, air quality and exercise opportunities. I have recently completed a year-long Healthy Communities Program selected by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, in which I participated in a national professional development program designed to boost innovative community health initiatives. One of the community health partners that participated in this initiative was the Oneonta YMCA and its executive director, Frank Russo.

This program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, selected 10 chamber executives from around the country. The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, representing the entire Northeast, participated to help develop and implement a plan to tackle a specific community health challenge. The curriculum was designed to help participants demonstrate the leadership roles their chambers of commerce can play in strengthening quality of life and supporting equitable prosperity. The learning outcomes of the program emphasized the need for strong collaboration of community stakeholders, including chambers of commerce and individual employers, who are strong civic partners and have economic interest to work together in building a balanced health, safety and wellness agenda for our communities.

A particular health challenge the Otsego County Chamber was tasked to solve is on the opioid epidemic affecting our country and in our community.

The problem:

• According to the CDC from 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the United States;

• Around 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid;

• On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose;

• 88 local deaths as a result of opioid overdose, according to the 2015 Otsego County coroner’s report.

The solution is to educate and be part of the workforce:

• The chamber hosts a series of seminars on “Opioids in the Workplace” and offers an annual human resources labor law seminar, partnering with local law firms and recovery support organizations to receive training on addiction and substance misuse.

• Partnered with FOR-DO, LEAF, Oneonta Police Department, Oneonta Mayors Office, Sal’s Pizza and Vecc Videography, which produced a documentary, “A Slice of Hope,” to feature the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative. This supports encouraging people in active recovery to find employment with Recover Friendly businesses that have been trained by FOR-DO and offer peer advocates to sustain stable employment.

To learn more about this initiative contact the Otsego County Chamber. To date, 13 Recovery Friendly Workplaces in Oneonta have filled their open positions.

Barbara Ann Heegan is president and chief executive officer of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce.