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SEP 23- SEP 30, 2014

Five-year Way to Wellville Contest to Cost Big, Niagara Falls is in With all Four Paws

By Frank Parlato

September 23, 2014

The Way to Wellville Contest- a huge scam or big health payoff?

Niagara Falls - While Councilman Charles Walker has not found time to file his required campaign disclosure reports with the state Board of Elections - something he has been in violation of for more than a year-- he did find time last week to travel with City Administrator Donna Owens at public expense to a conference in sunny Tampa, Fla.

He appears to have attended the "The Way to Wellville Conference" which ran from Sept. 16 -18 where the announcement was made that Niagara Falls will be one of five municipalities competing in a five-year contest of the same name --called "The Way to Wellville."

Niagara Falls will compete against Clatsop County, Ore., Greater Muskegon, Mich., Lake County, Calif., and Spartanburg, S.C.

The contest is sponsored by a newly-formed not-for-profit called HICCup (Health Initiative Coordinating Council) and will permit the above mentioned communities, now- for purposes of the contest, renamed, "The Wellville Five," to compete as they pitch funders/investors and negotiate to buy products and services from for-profit companies, some of them closely associated with HICCup, in order to, purportedly, revolutionize the health of their communities and win a cash prize.

The HICCup website states, "The prize will go to the community that shows the greatest (health) improvement … over five years."

How much is the prize?

"Candidly, we're not sure yet," HICCup's website admits. "We are looking for a donor who would like to sponsor a $5-million prize in exchange for naming rights, but we do not yet have a firm commitment."

All five communities will receive non-financial support from HICCup and pay HICCup for, among other things, "navigators" who "help you engage advisors, partners and vendors to develop, integrate" and "finance your health production efforts."

Along the way, the HICCup team will work with the "Wellville Five" to "nudge and refine, test and learn, navigate and engage."

"Together," HICCup writes, somewhat grandiosely, if not nearly incomprehensibly, "we'll create five community learning labs for accelerated innovation…broader engagement of willing partners, vendors, and financial resources……sustainable financing models…and accountability-through-visibility – within, among and outside of the five selected communities…all with a magnitude of impact that wouldn't have happened otherwise."

"We want each of you to be a winner," the website continues, "improving the overall health of your community on a scale that no one imagined when you began."

During the five-year contest, HICCup promises to offer support in helping to find financing, which can be used in turn to purchase goods and services from HICCup partners, and that HICCup will serve to help keep track of everything extremely carefully.

"Our team of experts will require lots of data," the website promises, without mentioning the cost. "You also need to agree to (pay for) an almost-intrusive amount of measurement…so that others can learn from your successes and failures."

HICCup does offer contestants the possibility of worldwide fame.

She's famous and rich: That's always enough for Mayor Dyster to jump in blindly. Esther Dyson wants Niagara Falls to cough up $15- $50 million over the next five years and win her contest.


"The whole world (we hope) will be watching to see how they can emulate your successes and avoid your mistakes," HICCup writes to the elected leaders of the five communities.

"Throughout the five-year contest, there will be publicity, incentives, and opportunities to share what you and your peer communities are learning," the website says. "…We hope to put your community in a reality TV show and (separately) a serious, inspirational documentary."

One can imagine the allure for such as Mayor Paul Dyster, being given the chance to appear on two different TV shows.

HICCup also promises to "help you manage (for a fee) the complexities of all you'll be doing, … help you assemble your plans and resources, increase your chances of getting investment and achieving success, connect you with peer communities, and spread the learnings and lessons of your Way to Wellville across the country.

"We'll help you … co-develop new solutions for the production of health. For example, you will get support for working with (for profit) food companies to create a 'food paradise' in your community."

How much will this cost?

"We expect that each community will need to raise from $15 to $50 million (depending on size) in investments into health-care cost reduction and health-production programs over the five-year contest," the website advises.

Unlike other communities, Niagara Falls has, in fact, that kind of discretionary money in casino cash.

"Parks, transit, food subsidies and school-lunch changes. Financial and in-kind donations and reduced costs will be needed to provide healthy-food subsidies, motivational tools and programs," and this investment (much of which, it seems, will be earmarked for partners of HICCup) can help a city win the contest and win also in terms of health, HICCup promises.

"But many of the financial returns won't be attributable just to health-care cost reductions; they will result from reduced crime and unemployment, more productive workers, higher real estate prices and the like," says HiCCup, who has in effect herein promised to solve all the problems of Niagara Falls with a single contest.

The "Wellville" communities are of course (with HICCup's help) fully responsible for developing plans and pitches that will draw the $15-$50 million investment. "Imagine a community-health-production version of the TV show 'Shark Tank,'" HICCup writes.

To most savvy readers, perhaps this sounds worthy of a healthy dose of skepticism, but for Mayor Paul Dyster, he is apparently all on board. Commenting in the broadest language on the goals of the contest, he said, "Health and wellness, broadly defined, is one of the factors by which we're going to succeed as a nation."

He did not volunteer the much more specifics as to how much casino cash he will ask the council to approve for this contest over the next five years.

HICCup's founder is, according to their website, an "internet angel," named Esther Dyson, and its CEO is again, according to the website "mild mannered" Rick Brush.

Dyson was a technology analyst turned investor who cashed in on several internet startups, and Brush was a former executive at the Cigna health insurance company. They came together specifically to pull off this contest.

Rick Brush is CEO of the Way to Wellville Contest.


Dyson said, "We'll be measuring everything to see what makes the greatest impact, from healthier school lunches and better housing, to early childhood education and economic development, to active social networks and workplace wellness."

Brush, while failing to disclose how much the contest might conceivably earn for his and Dyson's partners, said, "HICCup and its partners will support the Wellville communities in much the same way that a startup accelerator supports a promising business idea and leadership team. In this case, the community is the startup, and the community's product is health."

The object of the contest is clearly twofold: Firstly, for the business savvy Dyson and her partners in the health improvement field - this is a cash cow - where five municipalities purchase their partners products and services - and by the nature of the municipalities participating (and being guided by HICCup) to win the contest itself - endorsing HICCup's partner's products and services to a wider market - and, secondly, it is hoped, by HICCUp, that, while making big money off these five cities, they will help deliver measurable health improvements.

The fact that HICCup is both the judge and jury of all measurements of health improvements and also of the winner of the contest, and, at the same time, the company paid to measure the results, represents a potential conflict that is worth exploring before committing resources.

The melding of for-profit, not-for-profit and municipal interests is also rife with potential conflicts.

But Dyster seems to think this is not important.

"It's in the interest of companies to have a healthier society and work force," Dyster said when discussing the contest.

His administrator, Donna Owens, perhaps hitting the nail on the head without knowing it, called the contest "social entrepreneurship."

Dyster added that he thought that Niagara Falls was chosen among the five participants because he once started what has been to date, when judged in terms of measurable results, a wholly ineffective "Task Force for a Healthier Niagara Falls" and not because it is well known that his administration is uniquely positioned, because of its extreme willingness to spend tens of millions in casino cash, on plans and schemes that are never measured in terms of results.

As for Walker, after he left the conference, he went to Georgia where perhaps he will cogitate on whether or not he will finally ever get around to informing the public how much he got and what he did with campaign contributions and report such, as is legally required.

In that regard he might just take a tip from the people at HICCup, who seem to know how to manage and monitor money very, very well.

Mayor Dyster believes casino money comes easy and is spent fast. How about spending it without a plan like say for a contest?






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