Athens County Aims To Be Selected For National Health Competition

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Athens County is hoping to be selected as one of five communities on their “way to Wellville” and receive funding to help county residents become healthier in the next five years.

The county was selected as one of 16 finalists in the Way to Wellville competition held by the Health Initiative Coordinating Council (HICCup). The organization was started by wealthy investor Esther Dyson as a way to get communities on track to a healthy lifestyle.

Five communities will be selected to receive support from HICCup over a five-year period to enhance health. The community with the best outcome over those five years will win $5 million.

Sherri Oliver, director of Live Healthy Appalachia, said that those in the health field in Athens County heard about the competition in early May and decided to band together to enter Athens County. She said the Healthy Community Coalition of Athens County, which is comprised of representatives from many health sectors in the community, worked to complete an intense 20-page application for the competition. Out of the 42 communities that applied, Athens County was selected as one of 16 finalists.

Oliver said Athens County was one of four communities in Ohio to apply, but the only one selected. She added that Athens County is one of only four communities selected in the Midwest.

The Coalition is now in the process of writing a full proposal in hopes of being one of the five communities selected to receive support from HICCup for the next five years.

“Over that five years, the folks from HICCup will send a health navigator to bring all organizations to the table and provide us with grant opportunities to increase capacity of what we’re doing right now,” Oliver explained. “If we have $5 million to spend on the health of the county, we could do some incredible things.”

According to HICCup’s website, the five communities will participate in a five-year collaborative process to significantly and sustainably improve health at the community level.

“HICCup will support the five selected Wellville communities in much the same way that a startup accelerator supports a promising business idea and leadership team. In this case, the community is the startup. And the community’s product is the production of health,” the website states. “Just like a business startup, the community sets its course, develops its plans, makes the pitch to funders/investors, negotiates with suppliers and delivers and measures its impact. Along the way, the HICCup team and partners will work with the Wellville Five to nudge and refine, test and learn, navigate and engage.”

A community gathering will be held Monday at 6 p.m. at the Athens Community Center to discuss the county’s health goals for the next five years for the proposal.

“We want everyone from every aspect of the community to discuss where we’re headed in the next five years,” Oliver said. “We want to pull people in and talk about what our priorities are as a county.”

According to Oliver, the Coalition was already in the process of working to implement the state’s new Chronic Disease Plan. The goals of that plan are to reduce the rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer; increase effective screening for many cancers, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol; and reduce risk factors such as tobacco use, obesity, physical inactivity and poor nutrition.

Oliver said work to implement the Chronic Disease Plan will serve as a blueprint for the Way to Wellville competition. She said the plan will look at ways to improve health via universities, schools, government, community organizations and the health care field.

At the end of the five years, HICCup will assess the communities’ health impact, financial impact, social/environmental context and sustainability. The winner will receive $5 million to help further improve health in their community.

“An injection of that kind of money into Athens County could be huge,” Oliver said. “We could have way more access to resources than we do already. It could make some even greater things happen in Athens County.”

Oliver said this is a huge opportunity for Athens County and being selected as one of the 16 semifinalists speaks to everything that people are doing in the county, such as the local food economy.

“It’s kind of great to see someone from a national level see that and recognize that there’s a lot work being done here,” she said.

For information about Way to Wellville, visit