NORWAY – Every weekday around noon, downtown Norway sidewalks become the exercise track for numerous groups of business people who lace up their sneakers and walk for health.

“It is really true that if we just focused on being more active we could affect mortality rate, save of money and improve people’s quality of life,  Andy Spaulding, director of the Center for Community and Worksite Health from Viridian Health Management in Portland, said.

Spaulding spoke before a group of some 60 Oxford Hills area business people Thursday during a luncheon and award ceremony in the Harper Conference Center at the Ripley Building on the Stephens Memorial Hospital complex.

The annual event is sponsored by Healthy Oxford Hills, a Norway-based health organization. It recognizes companies throughout Oxford Hills that support healthy environments.

For Oxford County, which was ranked this year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as the 15th least healthy county out of 16 counties in Maine, walking it is a activity that is making a difference in people’s health and lives.

Only Washington County was ranked lower than Oxford County in the health survey. The county was ranked 6th in physical environment, including access to recreational facilities and air pollution but was ranked high above state average in motor vehicle death rates and excessive drinking.

It is ranked higher in premature deaths than the average rate in Maine and the nation, according to the county rankings that can be found at

Last year, Oxford County was ranked the least healthy county in the state, according to the same survey. The Johnson Foundation annually releases its annual report on the health of all counties in the U.S. The rankings include every county in all 50 states and measure how healthy people are and how long they will live.

Ken Morse, director of Healthy Oxford Hills in Norway, said at the time that the news that Oxford County was ranked the least healthy county in Maine came as little surprise. Economics, he said, is considered to be the most significant factor in the low ranking for Oxford County.

Healthy Oxford Hills has been actively trying to improve the county’s health rating, offering local and free work site wellness resources. The offerings include developing a walking program for employees and marking out a one-half mile loop for staff during their break, along with free nutritional and physical activity resources.

Chris Davis, program coordinator of Healthy Oxford Hills said the organization also has a wealth of free software for surveying staff or creating a wellness plan as well as tools to reduce the effects of substance abuse and tobacco abuse, including policy samples, signage, treatment options and posters.

There are other resources in the community for businesses to take advantage of as well, Davis said. Stephens Memorial Hospital offers a variety of assistance, including a resource learning center, diabetes education, cardiac rehabilitation and more. Paramedic Alliance for Community Emergency, known as PACE, offers blood pressure checks of employees in their workplace.

“It’s really about community-based initiatives,” Spaulding said.

“You’ve got some challenges, but you’ve got some opportunities,” he said.

Dozens of businesses have joined the  Healthy Oxford Hills initiative. This year the town of Norway became the first municipality to join the effort and Oxford Elementary School became the first school to join.

Five new businesses signed up, including Bancroft Corporation and NEPW, formerly known as New England Public Warehouse.

At the luncheon a number of businesses were awarded gold, silver or bronze plaques for their efforts to improve the health environment in their workplace.

The Work Healthy program is funded through the Fund for a Healthy Maine, which supports the Healthy Maine Partnerships, said Davis.

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NORWAY – Western Maine Health/Stephens Memorial Hospital President and CEO Timothy A. Churchill announced a $19,988 grant has been awarded to help fund the newly formed Oxford County Wellness Collaborative. The grant is from The Bingham Program.

In response to data detailed in the 2011 OneMaine Community Health Needs Assessment citing Oxford County as Maine’s unhealthiest county, Stephens Memorial Hospital, with assistance from MaineHealth, the Western Maine District Public Health Coordinating Council, Healthy Oxford Hills and River Valley Healthy Communities, initiated community forums in Paris and Bethel in 2011 to heighten awareness of these results, he said.

Forums attendees reviewed current data, discussed key elements contributing to Oxford County’s poor health status and began discussing possible solutions in small groups. At the Bethel forum it was decided to bring the two groups together.

In February, the consolidated group of more than 60 individuals convened joint task forces: community safety, healthy eating, physical activity, and mental health/substance use. By the end of this meeting, the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative was officially formed by group consensus.

The Planning Group responsible for the three forums includes the following organizations: Stephens Memorial Hospital, Rumford Hospital, Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, Healthy Oxford Hills, Let’s Go! Oxford County, River Valley Healthy Communities, Western District Public Health Coordinating Council, and the Maine CDC.

Churchill said the Bingham grant will allow the formation of the collaborative’s organizational mission, vision and structure, as well as implement priority action projects.

Stephens Memorial Hospital has agreed to act as the temporary administrative home for the collaborative and will provide space and office equipment. MaineHealth, the parent of Stephens Memorial Hospital, has provided significant in-kind technical assistance to this initiative and will continue to do so.

The Bingham Program is a charitable endowment established to promote health and advance medicine in Maine and is administered by Tufts Medical Center. A major focus of The Bingham Program has been to improve health service delivery in Maine, particularly in rural areas.

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