Our Voice: Benton-Franklin Commun ity Health Alliance has a plan to make this a healthier place to live

Hey, you!

Put down the chips and pick up the CHIP (Community Health Improvement Plan).

The Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance is a group effort that includes hospitals, care providers, agencies, schools, businesses and churches.

The alliance analyzed the community's health needs for 18 months and identified several keys areas where we can improve. Those key items were narrowed down to two main focuses -- access to health care and obesity.

Under the Affordable Care Act, everyone will have to learn how his or her health care will be provided.

People who were not covered before will be now. People who have received coverage in the past will be getting a new plan. The people who still fall between the cracks will have access to care, if they know how to get it.

In short, everyone needs to know where they can get care, establish a medical home base and be proactive about his or her health.

A huge piece of the ACA is the emphasis on prevention.

Companies and communities will be launching more prevention strategies and trying to create informed health care consumers.

The timing for the alliance's CHIP is perfect. It focuses on educating the community about where to get health care, how to be a wise consumer and be healthier all the way around.

The second piece of CHIP's strategy is combating obesity.

We have the dubious honor of being fat. More than one-third of the adults in Benton and Franklin counties are classified as obese and in 2012 we were No. 9 in a national index that ranked the most obese metro areas in the country.

The short version of this story is that the alliance wants us to move more and eat better. And they're providing incentives to do so.

The partnering agencies promote physical activity among adults and youths. They also work with the local governments to create more walkable communities.

You can't argue with that.

In addition to their two focus areas, the alliance has seven committees that work to coordinate care in areas like mental health, dental care, food and fitness.

So much of our quality of life depends on our health. It's something we take for granted -- until it is compromised.

On a personal level, it makes sense to be educated about good health and actively pursue it.

On a community level, it makes sense to help everyone in the Mid-Columbia stay well. Unnecessary trips to the emergency room raise the cost of everyone's insurance.

Gaps in mental health care and incidents of domestic violence involve all of us, whether directly or indirectly.

The health alliance has put together a remarkable program to coordinate efforts to improve the health of our community. More information is available online at http://www.bfcha.org. It's worth checking out.