NEIL THORNBURY, CEO of T.J. Samson Regional Health

GLASGOW — T.J. Regional Health is offering an opportunity for the community to take part in a discussion regarding the state of health in the Glasgow-Barren County area.

Tony Buettner with the Blue Zones Project will talk about best practices that can be put in place to improve the community's overall health, well-being and longevity at a communitywide meeting on March 21.

The meeting will take place in the community center at the T.J. Health Pavilion along L. Rogers Wells Boulevard.

The Blue Zones Project was founded by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and New York Times best-selling author.

Buettner did a 10-year study and found five places in the world that have been dubbed Blue Zones.



“What that means is they have the greatest percentage of people who live to be centurions,” said Mindy Hann, a family nurse practitioner for T.J. Regional Health.

One of the Blue Zones is Loma Linda, California. The others are the Italian island of Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula; and the Greek island of Ikaria.

Currently, there are 47 communities the organization is working with to drive their health metrics and lifestyles so they can become identified as a Blue Zone.

“We want to be one of those,” Hann said.

Kentucky is not considered to be one of the healthiest states in the country.

America's Health Rankings annual report shows Kentucky to be ranked 45th out of 50 states.

The healthiest state is Hawaii. It achieved that status for having a low obesity rate, a low number of residents who are smokers, a low prevalence of frequent mental stress and a high number of primary care physicians.

Kentucky has a high cancer death rate, a high prevalence of frequent mental stress and a high prevalence of smoking, according to the annual report.

The Blue Zones Project has come up with things a community can do to improve its overall health and increase its residents' longevity. Some of those are: eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising more, defining a purpose in life and engaging in positive behaviors.

The mission of T.J. Regional Health is to take care of the sick in the community, but it's also to keep everybody in the community healthy, said Neil Thornbury, CEO of T.J. Regional Health.

“For us, this really matches well with that mission,” he said. “In our opinion, does it make sense for the mayor, the judge, the city, the county, the school systems, the restaurants, the churches and the grocery stores … to come together and ask, 'Should we develop a plan for the community to try to improve the health of the citizens in the community? Does it make sense to do that?' We believe the answer to that is 'yes.'”

Becoming a Blue Zone would be a large feat for the Glasgow-Barren County community.

“Could it be done? Absolutely, it can be done, but it's a generational goal. We are trying to do that over many numbers of years. But that's why it makes sense for us and that's why we've asked everyone in the community to come and listen to the gentleman that is coming from Blue Zones, to say, 'Does it make sense? Is this something we want to pursue as a community and is everybody committed to making this effort,' because it is a big effort for our community” he said.

T.J. Regional Health has already started working with its employees to try to improve their overall health and well-being. It began by starting walking groups.

The employees attend walking events and classes and for participating in the events they receive a stamp on a wellness card. The employees also become eligible for prizes with the more stamps they receive on their cards and the more cards they complete, Hann said.

In October, a Ready, Set, Go challenge was held to get the employees ready for a 5K Walk/Run that was held in October in conjunction with T.J. Samson Community Hospital's fall festival.

During the winter, the employees took part in a Million Steps Challenge. More than 80 people registered for the event. Twenty-five of the 80 participants did more than a million steps, she said.

“Our highest one got almost 1,800,000 steps,” Hann said.

The walking events have been fun for the employees and she said they keep wanting to know what the next one will be.

“Everyone is fired up,” she said.

The employees are currently involved in one associated with March Madness and another one is planned that will coincide with the Kentucky Derby consisting of a 1.5 mile walk or run.

“The hospital is paying the Blue Zones Company to come in for this information and then from there it's really a discussion around the table of, 'Do we feel like we can get everybody aligned in the community to think this is the direction everybody wants to go?'” Thornbury said. “If everybody is generally (saying) 'yes,' there are certainly fees attached to that and that at that point I think we would kind of cross that bridge on how we get funding to bring Blue Zones here if everybody agrees this is the right thing to do.”

Thornbury only knows what he has read about the Blue Zones Project. He has spoken with Tony Buettner, but said he has not listened to him explain what needs to be done to achieve the Blue Zone designation.

“I think we have to do that and evaluate whether we think that's the best fit or not,” he said. “But on the surface, it looks to be a really great strategy for a lot of communities.”

If the community agrees that becoming a Blue Zone is a goal it wants to achieve, Thornbury said Blue Zone team members will evaluate the community's parks and research federal grant funding to try increase access to them. The Blue Zone team members will also work with restaurants and grocery stores on offering more healthy choices, he said.

A meet and greet will take place prior to the community-wide meeting, starting at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

For more information on Blue Zones, go to www.bluezones.com.