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Eyes Off The Project

I recently attended the SC Tobacco Free Annual Conference and was struck by something – I had forgotten all about tobacco. No, I hadn’t forgotten my cigarettes. I don’t use tobacco and I’m an advocate for all of SC becoming tobacco free. But yet, in my work in the population health arena for the past year, I don’t believe the word has exited my mouth. How can that be?

In a word, compartmentalization struck. It’s all too easy to become consumed with a single dimension of anything. For example, with a grant focused on obesity or a funding stream tied to the inappropriate use of emergency rooms. However, we need to think holistically. We cannot afford to say that we are going to work on obesity or tobacco use or we are going to work on transitional care or mental health.  It must be an AND.  That is the only approach that will lead to sustainable approaches or outcomes. The “or” approach is easier, but in the end, it is so much less effective.

Nonetheless, we cannot ignore chronic diseases, health behaviors, other diseases and root causes, while focusing on a single issue. The only approach that is going to work is to get our eyes on the population and not the project. 

Did you hear that?  What would our questions and discussions be if the population was our true focus?  How would our conversations change? Would we pay more attention to the interdependence between literacy levels, high school graduation rates, and drug, alcohol, and tobacco use instead of putting them in individual boxes? I believe we would.

I encourage you (as I also encourage myself) to consider a portfolio of projects or investments woven with short-term and long-term initiatives that all occur in concert with one another.  You cannot be the expert in all of the ANDs, but you can connect with others who are. Only by moving from the or posture to the and posture will we ever achieve our population health goals.