Health Feature Story - by Luisa Singletary, Summer Intern

With topics like obesity and addiction coming to the forefront of conversation in recent history, the health of the public remains a serious concern for many organizations in Knox County. United Way is proud to fund organizations in the community that are diligently working to combat health crises and provide resources to members of our community.

One such program is Knox Out Tobacco, sponsored by the Knox County Health Department.   Knox Out Tobacco (KOT) is a program designed to help Knox County residents kick their tobacco addiction.

According to Mike Whitaker, a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist (CTTS) at the Health Department, KOT provides any Knox County resident who wants to break their addiction to tobacco with eight weeks of cessation counseling, support and pharmacotherapy, such as nicotine patches, gum and lozenges. Initially funded by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), KOT is now funded by the United Way after ODH decided to stop funding all local cessation programs. Whitaker notes that the United Way’s funding came just in time.

“We were able to retain our cessation services once United Way invested in our program,” he said. “It worked out time-wise as we lost ODH funding and United Way’s funding started concurrently.”

Thus, KOT was able to continue their services to the community – with exciting results.  “Knox County’s adult tobacco rate has declined tremendously [from] 32% in 2010 to…21% in 2015,” said Whitaker. Though these programs have been highly successful, Whitaker is realistic about the difficulties his clients face when making such a drastic lifestyle change.

“Each and every person we see wants to quit. Many are successful in quitting, but some fail due to stress, [difficulty], or time commitment,” said Whitaker. “Nicotine is the most addictive drug we know. It may take a person several attempts to quit successfully.”

Understanding the barriers to successfully quitting, KOT is still seeking opportunities to give their clients as many resources as possible. With the necessary funding from United Way, KOT has taken steps to improve their services by adding a daytime class in addition to their evening class, and an additional CTTS.

According to Whitaker, hosting a class during the day provides the opportunity for those with transportation issues, those who work evening and night shifts, and for seniors who do not feel comfortable driving at night to attend. An additional CTTS will aid clients through counseling, individualized treatment, goal-tracking, and tobacco education.

With as many services as KOT is providing, the ultimate goal is to help people live a healthier lifestyle, especially in light of the seemingly unending benefits.

“Not only does quitting tobacco reduce risky behaviors of the user, but for their family, co-workers and friends as well. Adults are modeling behaviors that demonstrate a ‘Get Healthy Knox County’ lifestyle,” said Whitaker. “Plus, a healthier worker is a more productive and more pleasant employee. Less absenteeism, sickness, less visits to their family doctor or specialist, reduced health insurance rates and no more smoke breaks.”

Living a healthier lifestyle is also the focus of another Knox County organization: the YMCA.  Known for its focus on wellness, the YMCA works to provide everyone in the community access to high quality fitness and exercise facilities and programs, free childcare and early childhood education programs.

In addition to its traditional programs, the YMCA also offers multiple ways to commit to wellness with the help of the United Way, including a diversity of community events, Activtrax, and membership scholarships.

To provide opportunities for Knox County residents to improve their health, the YMCA hosts a variety of community events through partnerships with local organizations. Through one partnership, YMCA members are given the chance to interact with a dietician from Knox Community Hospital. The dietician provides individualized help and is able to give tips and advice on topics like diet, exercise and other health concerns. The dietician also provides grocery store tours to show which foods are the best for the body and the budget. The Executive Director of the YMCA, Nick Clark, recognizes the value of this opportunity for members.

“Having the ability to talk to a registered dietician without having to go to the hospital and get these services, being able to pick their brain, this isn’t an opportunity you can usually get,” Clark said. “We’re giving people access to this really special stuff. It’s pretty unique.”

The YMCA also offers the use of a fitness tool called Activtrax. The tool helps monitor fitness goals and track nutrition for months at a time. Members can log their meals and their exercises and are able to, with the help of the program, achieve their health or weight goals. Members aren’t the only ones with an end goal in mind: the YMCA is also working on achieving their main goal: quality service to the community.

“We want to serve, and serve well, as many people in Knox County as we can,” said Clark. Currently, the YMCA serves 4,500 people, which equals about 8% of the community; however, they are actively trying to reach out to as many people as they can, even those who would normally not be able to afford membership.

To best reach all residents of the community, the YMCA offers financial assistance (scholarships) to those who are unable to afford membership. Up to 75% of the membership price can be covered by the scholarship. The YMCA awarded 297 scholarships last year with a grand total of $65,000 total spent, and 83% of the scholarships were at the 75% level. “When it comes to healthy living, income should not be a barrier,” said Clark.

Just as Whitaker believes beating a tobacco addiction can improve other aspects of your life, Clark believes a healthier lifestyle results in being able to enjoy the little things.“In our daily lives we live, and live, and when something goes wrong, you are taken aback. Whether it’s cancer, knee surgery or you’re out of breath going up the stairs, these are all really compelling reasons to consider your health,” said Clark. “Imagine a world where we all felt better and weren’t gassed playing with the kids and could just bounce up a flight of stairs. To me, that is a utopian Knox County.”

In 2016, United Way of Knox County will invest $22,000 in Knox Out Tobacco and $57,400 in the YMCA’s Community Wellness Program.  When someone invests in United Way, they improve local lives and the entire Knox County community.