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With the rise in preventable disease both nationally and globally, communities are increasingly seen as the epicenter for sustainable solutions. There is an increased focus on communities to be the architects of health improvement. This trend towards community transformation speaks to the realization that health is local and that communities are best able to develop strategies that are appropriate for their region and population. A healthy community is good for the local economy and adds to the viability of the region and the country on a whole.
But what does it take for a community to go through a health transformation? What does a transformed community look like? The answers to these questions are as complex as the health indicators that communities are trying to improve. The Clinton Health Matters (CHMI), an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, understands these complexities and works with communities to develop strategies to address health improvement across all generations. CHMI recognizes that communities are at the nexus of health innovation and believes that systems change lays the groundwork for overall health improvement. We guide communities to make decisions based on current data with a collective focus on priority issues.
Health needs to be viewed as more than just a physical state. It is important to help communities and organizations set a bold vision for health improvement that transcends the individual without losing sight of unique and precise needs. Achieving health equity is CHMI’s ultimate goal which requires addressing population or systemic needs along with, or even sometimes paramount, to singularly held goals. The social determinants of health suggest that there are a myriad of factors that impact an individual’s health and well-being. Factors like the environment, access to and quality of healthy foods, healthcare and availability of physical activity spaces all contribute to overall good health and impact a community. Issues of health equity, access, and quality of care are also central to this. CHMI’s Community Health Transformation (CHT) model works as a neutral convener in communities to facilitate this process.
Partnerships with Purpose
When examining the compendium of factors, it is important to understand that it will take a diverse set of stakeholders to address and set about developing appropriate solutions. Specifically, a set of “unlikely partners” that can provide human capital and expertise to create “partnerships with purpose.” Engaging diverse stakeholders to form a consensus around improving health is the key ingredients of a rich partnership that can providing lasting results. A collaborative that can collectively develop health improvement strategies that are sustainable and feasible ensures greater success. CHMI believes that systems strengthening is also vital to long lasting and scalable solutions. Commitments are generally stronger where partnerships exist. CHMI’s CHT program currently works in 6 communities addressing chronic disease and convening stakeholders to develop health improvement frameworks called Blueprints for Action. This systems-change approach is not only used at the community level, but also at the national and institutional level.
Collective Impact (Action)
The greatest impact can happen when there is collective action around specific goals. For instance, in many of CHMI’s CHT communities, stakeholders achieve a consensus on specific goals known as bold actions. By collectively planning, developing, implementing, and sustaining efforts, lasting effects can be achieved.
For instance, in Coachella Valley, the community saw the need for universal HIV testing and with help from a local healthcare system, the community has been able to surpass the CDC’s recommended percentage of residents to be tested for HIV. In Houston, the use of technology is helping to lower the incidence of non-emergency cases overcrowding emergency rooms.
In some cases, doing an environmental scan can yield valuable information that is helpful to a community and allows them to make informed decision. Such an example can be seen in a collaboration between CHMI and the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO). These organizations surveyed employers to understand their motivation to be involved in wellness initiatives that benefit their employees.
CHMI knows that engaging stakeholders who have the capacity to influence health outcomes into a consensus driven process will enhance the collective consciousness. When you further underscore that momentum with data-driven decision making and the curation of best practices and resources to make changes possible, you ultimately harness a community-wide desire to live healthier for maximum impact.
Gillian Sealy is the National Director of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative. Gillian leads a team of regional directors working with communities to improve the health and wellbeing of all residents by reducing the prevalence of preventable health outcomes, closing health inequity and disparity gaps and reducing healthcare costs.