By SEAN ROWLEY
Members of the Oklahoma Board of Health were in Tahlequah Tuesday to hold their “regular meeting,” which is held twice yearly in a venue outside Oklahoma City.
Tahlequah was selected to host the board for its April meeting, which was hosted by the Cherokee Nation and held in the Tribal Council Chambers. An additional conference was Monday, during which the board met with tribal governments.
Dr. Terry Cline, commissioner of health and secretary of health and human services for the state of Oklahoma, said the Monday meeting was a consultation to gather information for the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan.
The plan was launched in 2009 and emphasizes such goals as obesity reduction and tobacco use prevention.
“We have a saying associated with the plan: Eat better, move more, and be tobacco free,” Cline said. “It was a very successful meeting where we identified strengths in this area, as well as barriers to improved health.”
Cline said tobacco served as an example of success and a barrier.
“Oklahoma, and this part of the state, has a very high rate of tobacco use,” he said. “We are concerned about the commercial use of tobacco. We are not talking about its ceremonial use. About 6,000 Oklahomans are killed every year by tobacco use. It is the No. 1 preventable cause of death.”
But many communities have taken steps to reduce tobacco consumption, including Tahlequah.
“We have worked with many of the people involved in the local tobacco prevention initiatives,” Cline said. “They are working with schools, businesses and the community.
Tahlequah has been very aggressive about eliminating the use of tobacco in public spaces, such as parks. The Cherokee Nation has paid for signage to designate public spaces as tobacco-free.”
Cline said the efforts are essential to reducing tobacco use among Oklahomans, and they are proving effective.
“Right now, Oklahoma has the lowest rate of tobacco use it has ever had,” he said.
“It has been a huge success over the past 10 years. This is done by city councils approving ordinances and schools designating their campuses as tobacco-free. Tahlequah really shines as an example to the rest of the state because of its collaborations with other groups.”
During the Tuesday meeting, the board heard a report from Maria A. Alexander, administrative director of the health departments in Cherokee, Craig, Ottawa, Mayes, Delaware and Adair counties.
The board also heard from Lisa Pivec, senior director of public health for Cherokee Nation Health Services, who discussed the Nation’s projects and collaborative efforts within its service area.
Cline said collaboration with tribal governments was vital to achieving the goals of the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan.
“Again, the cooperation between Tahlequah and the Cherokee Nation can be modeled around the nation,” he said.
“It shows how those partnerships can happen and enhance the health of the entire population.”
The meeting was proceeded by a one-hour meet-and-greet.
“We have county commissioners, city councilors, legislators, former legislators, members of the community who participate in health coalitions, on local boards of health, all here together,” he said. “It brings a lot of people into the conversation.”