Health Plan Builds Playgrounds to Help Children Stay Active and Combat Childhood Obesity

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Keystone Mercy Health Plan’s Safe Playground Program Has Built Eight Playgrounds, Serving More than 3,200 Children

Childhood obesity is becoming more prevalent in our community and many families are facing this serious health issue

Keystone Mercy Health Plan, the largest Medicaid managed health care organization in Pennsylvania, is increasing opportunities for children in underserved areas to have safe, play spaces through its Safe Playground program. The program’s goal is to encourage children to participate in healthy, physical activity by creating safe play areas, while minimizing the number of preventable injuries suffered by children as a result of out-dated equipment. The program was initiated because of a growing concern about increased obesity issues among the Plan’s school-aged members.

In 2007, Keystone Mercy started the Safe Playground program with its first build at Luis Munoz-Marin Elementary School, in North Philadelphia. Since then, playground sites have been selected, by the company, for schools that do not have safe play spaces and playground equipment for its students, many of which come from families that are at or below the poverty line. To date, with the help of over 300 employees, the company has erected eight playgrounds benefitting more than 3,200 children in Philadelphia-area schools.

At each build, more than 50 Keystone Mercy employees, parents, school officials, sponsors and community leaders assist in constructing the prefabricated playground. Most of the playgrounds, which are constructed in one day, are erected on previously vacant lots or have replaced unsafe or outdated playground equipment. Each brightly colored, multi-layered playground is more than 1,300 square feet and includes slides, tunnels, ladders and shaped landings, all surrounded by protective safety tiles.

In a 2005 survey of nationally recognized pediatricians, conducted by Harris Interactive, 96 percent of the respondents said they believed that activity on playgrounds benefits the mental and social development of children; 89 percent said that play keeps children from becoming overweight and 82 percent agreed that play develops a child’s problem-solving skills, which may lead to increases in academic performance.

“Childhood obesity is becoming more prevalent in our community and many families are facing this serious health issue,” said Jay Feldstein, DO, Interim Northeast Regional President and corporate chief medical officer, AmeriHealth Mercy Family of Companies, which includes Keystone Mercy Health Plan. He continued, “We know that the lack of physical activity is a contributing factor and the Safe Playground program supports our mission of building a healthier community by contributing to a child’s development of healthy behavior patterns through play.”

The most recent Safe Playground build took place at Woodland Academy Child Development Center, which offers daycare and youth services for children six-weeks to 14-years-old. “The renovation at our Woodland Academy Child Development Center demonstrates Keystone Mercy Health Plan’s commitment to the community," said Ron Heigler, chief executive officer and executive director, Greater Philadelphia Health Action, Inc., which operates Woodland Academy. “Given the rate of childhood obesity,” he continued, “a modern, safe and accessible playground provides the opportunity for additional exercise that will add to our children’s overall health.”

Anne Morrissey, AmeriHealth Mercy Family of Companies executive vice president and chief operating officer, is the catalyst for the Safe Playground program, and through her leadership, the program has become a reality.

“Keystone Mercy is committed to providing a wide range of programs that address the needs of our communities,” Morrissey said. “Our community partners, such as the Fund for Children at the Philadelphia Foundation and Wachovia Bank, are dedicated to making a positive difference in the Philadelphia area. Together, we have proved our commitment by providing resources to programs, like Safe Playground, that will have a lasting impact for the children and their neighborhoods.”

About Keystone Mercy Health Plan

Keystone Mercy Health Plan, a member of the AmeriHealth Mercy Family of Companies, is a Medical Assistance (Medicaid) managed care health plan serving more than 300,000 Medical Assistance recipients in southeastern Pennsylvania. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Keystone Mercy Health Plan is a mission-driven company dedicated to helping members get care, stay well, and build healthy communities. For more information, visit http://www.keystonemercy.com.

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Sonya Evans-Johnson