Summit Pacific: Blue Zones - Healthcare or Hot Air?
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
In 2019, Josh Martin, the CEO of Summit Pacific Medical Center proposed to the Grays Harbor Board of Commissioners that the county partner in a venture called Blue Zones.
Note: In full disclosure, I was a County Commissioner during this time period. I voted against support of Blue Zones.
Blue Zones is defined as places in the world where there are unusually high numbers of what are called centenarians or super centenarians, these are people that live longer than the age of 100.
The idea was created by Dan Buettner, the Blue Zones founder. He is a National Geographic Fellow and a New York Times bestselling author. He alleges that there are five places in the world that are dubbed blue zones – where people live the longest, and are healthiest. Those places are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.
It was certainly an interesting idea. Could our community get healthier if we paid to try their health program? It was worth looking into.
Martin was and still is optimistic about Blue Zones having spent four (4) years looking into it. He works at the pleasure of the five (5) Hospital Commissioners who are elected officials and those officials serve at the pleasure of the citizens within the District.
Note: No elected Hospital District Commissioner responded to questions regarding Blue Zones.
During a recent phone call, Martin stated, "If there are 7 other countries that figured out how to have a longer life, and a cheaper cost on the health care system, why shouldn't we be bringing those principles into our society?"
"The key takeaway I have is, our quality of life is only based on 20% genetics, whereas 80% is based on the environment around us." This would include what we eat, our exercise regiment, what we are exposed to and the people around us.
I asked Martin whether health is an individual choice or is it something government should nudge people to do? I expanded further and asked if he thinks people do not understand how to eat healthy or exercise? Josh responded, "We have come to discover that health transformation is a three legged stool, you have payers (government) funding source, the provider (hospital) and you have the patient. If you ask the question, where does health transformation begin? The answer is our healthcare system is broke."
Josh went on to talk about incentives for hospitals and investments in health. It really was a good conversation and I know his intentions are good as he moves the Hospital District forward in one of the fastest growing and changing industries.
He also provided examples where he believes Blue Zones has worked (there were more).
The Blue Zones Project approach - Video Here
The Fort Worth Transformation – Video Here
The 2019 progress in Southwest Florida – Video Here
Robert Wood Johnson- Klamath Falls, OR. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLiA7Z106SE
During my research, the most compelling information I found was threefold: Testimonial from a former local resident, a nationwide survey conducted out of the Japanese Ministry and a 2019 study on centenarians and Blue Zones. I also found, that through the discovery process all the information that Public Health or the Hospital Districts provided to Blue Zones would then become proprietary to the company.
First, I was put in contact with a woman from Grays Harbor who had moved to Eastern Washington, she received her Master's Degree in the medical field and was a team lead for Blue Zones in Yakima. She told me she was very excited at first but soon realized it was "a marketing campaign. They want your money to create programs that already exist." She expressed that no city or county should buy into Blue Zones. After paying the initial start up fees to engage Blue Zones, Yakima would still need a $9.25 million dollar commitment to Blue Zones to move forward with the program.
Secondly, the Japanese Ministry found in 2010 after conducting a nationwide survey, 238,000 people over the age of 100 (centenarians) were missing or dead long ago. The Ministry blamed poor record keeping for the errors. The reason this information is important is because Okinawa, Japan is one of the five highlighted Blue Zones.
"According to the ministry, the survey of local government records across Japan uncovered about 77,000 missing residents listed as at least 120 years old, and 884 were on the records as 150 or older." A likely impossibility. This was reported in the New York Times, CBC, CSMonitor and many other newspapers.
Finally, the most compelling information that I found was a 2019 study on centenarians and Blue Zones here: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/704080v1.full
To sum up the study, Blue Zones, the areas lauded as the embodiment of longevity consist of high poverty, crime, short life expectancy and terrible birth certificate records.
Using the information, I believe the premise and foundation of Blue Zones is built on poor recording keeping (birth certificates). The Japanese Ministry's nationwide survey findings and the 2019 study both strongly indicate this. Should Grays Harbor continue down this expensive Blue Zone path? Perhaps a less costly option such as creating a community health committee with motivated citizens and officials to provide outreach would be just as helpful.
Are Blue Zones the key to new age Healthcare or is it Hot Air? You decide.
Note: No elected Summit Pacific Hospital Commissioner reached out for comment or responded to any of my questions.