May 10, 2023 - Healthy Savannah observed its 16th anniversary on May 2 at the Charles H. Morris Center in Savannah. The non-profit organization is known locally and nationally for championing a culture of health in Savannah and Chatham County by fostering programs and promoting environments that make the healthy choice the easy choice.
During the breakfast event, held every other year with a collaborative network of local partners, Healthy Savannah announced the winner of the 2023 Health Innovation Award to Loop it Up Savannah and celebrated the milestones that have made and are making Savannah a healthier place to live and work.
“From advocating for Savannah’s Smoke-Free Ordinance to administering a five-year, $3.4 million grant called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH), our mission is to lead the way for significant, measurable, impactful programs that change the health landscape of our community,” said Paula Kreissler, executive director.
Eight years after Savannah’s ordinance was passed, the Georgia Department of Public Health documented a dramatic decrease in Savannah and Chatham County hospital admissions from 2010 to 2018 for obstructive heart disease, including heart attacks. It further noted that hospital admissions in nearby counties increased, while the state’s numbers stayed the same. The study also showed an uptick in visits to Savannah bars and restaurants, indicating the ordinance did not hurt business revenues.
Healthy Savannah, along with the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, has administered REACH grant funds since 2018 to foster sustainable health equity among Black residents in Savannah’s and Chatham County’s low-wealth neighborhoods. Some of the partnerships receiving grant funding and closing the equity gap in areas of nutrition, physical activity, clinical/community connections and COVID/flu awareness and acceptance include the Corner Store program, Farm Truck 912, Fresh Express, The Tide to Town Urban Trail network/Truman Linear Park Trail, HERO Help Me database and Healthy Savannah’s Community Health Advocate program. In July 2022, Healthy Savannah received the CDC’s 2022 REACH Lark Galloway-Gilliam Award for Advancing Health Equity Challenge. The award recognizes extraordinary individuals and entities whose work has contributed to advancing health equity.
In celebration of the achievements made by Healthy Savannah’s network of more than 200 partnerships, Christina S. Cook, MPH, CHES; presented the 2023 Health Innovation Award to Loop It Up Savannah for its Mindfulness Zone program. The program offers children a toolkit of strategies for addressing emotionally challenging circumstances that arise in school among peers, at home with family members, and among community members.
Nominees for the Health Innovation Award which were also recognized for their contributions to Healthy Savannah included Blessings in a Bookbag / Bike Walk Savannah Bike Drive; Chatham Area Transit’s Wellness Center; Mountain Film Festival Youth Program; and Stars School Initiatives Summer Camp for Boys.
Healthy Savannah’s Armand Turner presented the inaugural Dennis Hutton Spirit award in support of a community or school garden to Feiler Park Community Garden along with a $1,000 check. Hutton, who passed away in 2022, was well known for contributing his time and talent over the past decade to Healthy Savannah, Savannah Urban Garden Alliance, Mixed Greens and the Forsyth Farmers Market.
Montrece McNeill Ransom, JD, MPH, director of the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Training was the keynote speaker for the event.
“I’m super excited to be here in Savannah to talk with Healthy Savannah and all the folks that care about making Savannah healthier and more equitable and to talk with them about the phenomena of belonging,” said Ransom. “Belonging is the number one motivator that unleashes human potential.”
Ransom was appointed as a Presidential Management Fellow and worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for almost 20 years. For the last 10 years of her service, she led CDC’s public health law-related training and workforce development efforts.
The biennial event also afforded the opportunity for the outgoing chair, Lillian Grant-Baptiste, to hand over the gavel to the incoming chairperson, Blake Caldwell, MD.
“Healthy Savannah’s leadership has been instrumental in forging an extraordinary culture in our community,” said Caldwell. “The unique cooperation and creative collaboration with more than 200 organizations has resulted in numerous accomplishments from the Smoke-Free Air Ordinance to the Truman Linear Park Trail. I am excited to expand and enhance these collaborations to continually make Savannah a healthier place to live, work, and play.”
Caldwell is a physician and scientist who had most recently served as vice-chair of Healthy Savannah. She retired in 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is a pediatrician, but her early career included 8 years in the Navy doing bacterial research with a two-year tour teaching tropical public health and deployment medicine to Navy physicians in Panama. She joined the CDC in 1989 and her long career there included epidemiological research in HIV, health services research in health care quality and medical errors, and finally health policy for infectious diseases. She has also served on several non-profit boards and helped found the Healthy Savannah Grant Planning Working Group. In 2011-2012 she chaired a task force for the Metropolitan Planning Commission to revise the city and county animal control ordinances to encourage urban agriculture.
The non-profit also announced its new slate of executive board members: Blake Caldwell, MD, chair; Tom Bullock, PhD, vice chair; Nick Defley, MS, vice chair; Cheri Dean, secretary; and Pastor Yolanda Roberson, member at large.
Roberson, who is the executive pastor of Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship, has also been appointed as co-chair of Healthy Savannah’s Faith and Health Coalition to serve alongside Rhonda Barlow, MPH, RDN, LD, CLC.
The organization additionally welcomed new board members Krystal Sharp and Tiffany Young; and recognized Grant-Baptiste for her leadership as the outgoing chair of the organization, along with retiring board members Melanie Willoughby, RN, BSN, CCR; Cristina Gibson, MPH.
Gibson was recently appointed as the new chair of the Healthy Savannah Steering Committee, previously chaired by Young. She has served in public health for 20 years and is currently the Chronic Disease Prevention director for the Coastal Health District. As a member of the Healthy Savannah coalition, she has been at the forefront of efforts leading to the adoption of local smoke-free ordinances and a 100% smoke-free campus policy at Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Campus.
A healthy breakfast was provided by the Southern Palate and Ashford Tea Company supplied refreshments, including “Health Equi-Tea™,” first introduced in 2022 to celebrate Healthy Savannah’s 15th anniversary.
The public-private coalition launched by former Savannah Mayor Dr. Otis Johnson in 2007 has cultivated partnerships with more than 200 businesses, nonprofits, faith- and community-based organizations, schools, and healthcare and government agencies to develop policies and improve environments to assist people in making healthier choices the easy choice and to create and support a healthier, safer, and more accessible environment for all people to live, learn, work, pray, and play.
“I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of the work that’s going on,” said Johnson. “I feel like a granddaddy seeing the work of his grandchildren. Thank you for giving me the time to congratulate you.”
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