Howard hospital, library team up on social health campaign

'Well and Wise' hopes to connect with local bloggers to emphasize wellness issues

  • Jamie Brown, an owner of TLV Tree Farm, looks at nasturtium, an edible flowering plant, at a farmer's market at St. John's Episcopal Church Wednesday, May 11, 2011.
Jamie Brown, an owner of TLV Tree Farm, looks at nasturtium,… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
May 13, 2011|By Janene Holzberg, Special to The Baltimore Sun

The institution that made "Choose Civility" a Howard County mantra is joining forces with a local hospital to get county residents thinking about their health.

The Howard County Library System, which has distributed the ubiquitous green car magnets as part of its campaign to enhance public discourse, has been invited by Howard County General Hospital to join in writing a new online column called "Well and Wise." The partners are also blogging about health issues and will host a party Thursday to introduce the column to the blogging community.

The blog and website ( are already online and kicked off last week with a column on the merits of shopping at the county's five farmers' markets, which opened for the season May 4. Another entry focuses on skin cancer, and yet another promotes a retired Columbia doctor's efforts to curb childhood obesity.

"We've been quietly introducing this partnership and allowing word-of-mouth to circulate and people to discover us," said Mary Catherine Cochran, senior communications manager for the hospital. The blog party will continue the "soft launch," she said.

A blog about Lyme disease, which is prevalent in the county, is already in the works, she said. Classes and events that promote health and wellness will also be featured.

Paul Gleichauf, the hospital's senior vice president for planning and marketing, said his "aha" moment for the collaboration came with the March 2010 passage of health insurance reform law.

Health care reform, under the Affordable Care Act of March 2010, "is happening already, despite pressures [by opponents] to pull the plug on it," Gleichauf said.

"Our role at the hospital is narrowly focused on taking care of sick patients, but we wanted to respond by doing things a little bit differently," he said.

For years the hospital has offered health screenings at churches and library branches to help keep people out of the hospital, for instance, but interest in preventative care has "ratcheted up exponentially" as health care costs have climbed, he said.

"I thought, 'We're good at this, but we're only one organization. Who else is good at it?'" he said. That's when he thought of the library system.

"I've been a big fan of the library since I moved here 16 years ago," said the Massachusetts transplant. "My family has learned that our county library is so much more than books."

With budgets getting trimmed during the ongoing economic slump, finding creative ways to conduct outreach and marketing by combining expertise is more important than ever, he said.

"The library is such a natural partner," he said. "We're taking our collaboration and amping it up to the next level."

Library system President and CEO Valerie Gross called the joint effort the result of "an incredibly wonderful and powerful vision" to elevate health education in the county and make it accessible to everyone.

"We've been meeting for over a year, and we believe our ideas have evolved into something unique," she said. "A blog will involve the entire community, and our hope is that other agencies, businesses and nonprofits will join us."

Well and Wise will emulate the library's Choose Civility campaign when organizers hold a community summit on Oct. 27 "to keep health education center stage," Gross said. Aside from the county Health Department and the Horizon Foundation, a Columbia-based health and wellness philanthropy, the county public school system's A+ partnership would also be a logical choice.

Cochran, who formerly directed the hospital's Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource Center, described the collaboration as "two very straight-laced organizations getting a bit more casual and a little quirky."

Before Well and Wise went online, the two community institutions began comparing apples and pears, she said.

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" made a Red Delicious seem like the natural choice for the logo, reasoned the library system. But a green Bartlett with cocked eyeglasses, favored by the hospital, won out in the end, Cochran said.

"It will be ongoing and fun," said Gross, who envisions the pear logo taking on different looks on occasion just as Google, the popular search engine, changes its lettering style to promote national events and holidays.

The goal of Well and Wise goes beyond just getting two institutions together and will help health education gain momentum, Cochran said.

"We may have been named the healthiest county in the state," Gleichauf said, "but we want to raise the bar higher and be on the upper tier of healthiest places in the country."

If you go

Howard County General Hospital and the Howard County Library System will co-sponsor a blog party to introduce Well and Wise from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Union Jack's, 10400 Little Patuxent Parkway. Hors d'oeuvres will be offered courtesy of HCGH and the Friends of Howard County Library. Information and registration:

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