How Health Happens in Nashville

By Megan Barry, Mayor of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee

Mayor Barry with PodiumAmerica’s health could be better. Here in Nashville our health care is among the best in the world, but our health could be better. It must get better.

Nashville is booming right now, but if we can’t sustain our health and the health of our workforce, our soaring economy will no longer soar, and our vibrant community will lose its shine. If we don’t pay attention to the health of our children and youth, they won’t learn and our city won’t advance.

What we must remember about health is that the places where we live, learn, work, and play matter even more than the places where we get medical care. This means that the decisions we make in local government have real health impacts.

Whether we are talking about individuals or communities, health happens – or doesn’t happen – when we are not paying attention. More and more in Nashville, as a community, we are paying attention.

Health happens in the workplace. I’ve just launched Commit 2 Wellness, an employee wellness initiative for Metro government employees. We are aiming to get more employees to know their numbers and take action to prevent chronic disease by reducing their risk. Hundreds of employees have participated in our free screenings so far, learning more about their personal health and gaining valuable knowledge about how to incorporate wellness practices into their daily lives.

Health happens in our streets, especially when our people can safely choose to walk, bike or use public transit. In May, I signed an enhanced Complete and Green Streets executive order to guide city departments in building and maintaining public streets. Our streets should be built to improve environmental quality and enable safe access for people of all ages and abilities. And our budget this year includes an unprecedented investment in sidewalks and bikeways. Our new Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways won’t just be about infrastructure or recreation. It will also be about health, and the Health Department is a key part of the team.

Health happens in our parks and on our greenways.  We just launched a new master planning process for our parks and greenways, the health department is on the steering committee, and positive health impact is a goal. We’ve also applied for federal funding to help us build out the I-440 greenway. This would be an elevated greenway along approximately seven miles of highway. It would be Nashville’s equivalent of Atlanta’s BeltLine, and provide a safe and healthy option for people to move around.

Health happens in neighborhoods with safe, affordable housing, in communities where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Recently, Nashville was named a Promise Zone community by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This designation will support collaborative efforts to engage some of our most challenged communities. It will help us coordinate the efforts of community leaders, government and nonprofits and make it easier to realize a vision in which everyone in every neighborhood can thrive. With the Promise Zone designation, we have a new opportunity to turn unhealthy deserts of poverty into places of hope and health.

Health also happens when our community embraces and supports our children and youth, when they are affirmed and given hope. Health crumbles when there is no hope, when children learn violence and turn to violence. Recently in Nashville we have faced an epidemic of violence affecting our youth. We went to the youth, through a series of summits, to determine what we can do to replace the violence with opportunities. Based on recommendations from the youth violence summits, I am calling on businesses, government agencies and nonprofits to help us place 10,000 youth in jobs and internships next summer.

Finally, health happens when Metro department leaders – from Public Works to HR, from Juvenile Court to Parks and Recreation – meet regularly to advance health through a collaborative “Health in All Policies” approach.

These are just some examples of what we have been doing to make Nashville a healthier place.

Improving Nashville’s health is not something that a mayor can do alone, that a health department can do alone, or even that government can do by itself. We need to join together and work collaboratively with communities and across organizations to improve community health.

So health happens when partners come together to advance Nashville’s Community Health Improvement Plan. And health happens when we have the opportunity to join the Public Health 3.0 listening tour, and a committed group comes together with our local health department.

We need to re-imagine how we move our community toward better health, and we need to strategize about what more we can do. Better health is something we can achieve if we make a commitment and we work together.

Let’s make Nashville known not just as a place where health care happens, but also as a place where health happens.