County elected officials, county staff, and community leaders met in Jefferson County, Kentucky for NACo’s first-ever Health Equity Peer Exchange on June 7-8. NACo designed the event—offered in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program—to familiarize county leaders with the root causes of health disparities and showcase evidence-based best practices for building equitable communities.
Representatives from Jefferson County government and community-based nonprofits led participants in an intensive exploration of Jefferson County’s innovations, focusing on topics such as intergenerational poverty, neighborhood-level violence, food insecurity, housing, and discrimination. Participants were introduced to Jefferson County’s affordable housing and site transformation landscape first-hand through mobile tours of the Russell and Smoketown neighborhoods.
After introductory remarks from NACo President and Tarrant County, Texas Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks and NACo Board Member and Jefferson County Sheriff Colonel John Aubrey, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Community Coach Attica Scott commenced the two-day convening with an orientation to the concept of health equity, helping participants ground the concept into their visions for their counties.
As participants shared their challenges, successes and goals related to equity, a few themes emerged immediately: community engagement and trust-building, partnership development, mutual respect and intentionality. “We all make policy, but unless we do it with an intentional focus on equity around health and community concerns, we are making unconnected policies,” said President Brooks.
Ramsey County, Minnesota Commissioner Toni Carter, a co-facilitator for the exchange, noted the importance of incorporating community voices into policy decisions. “Health inequity is not accidental. It is the result of policy that has been created without people at the table. We want to ensure that policies are not just being made for people, but by and from them.”
Over the course of the Exchange, speakers guided participants through Jefferson County’s most pressing health concerns and noteworthy interventions:
- Ben Reno-Weber, Director of the Greater Louisville Project, discussed his organization’s multi-dimensional approach to poverty—a framework that urges stakeholders to look beyond income to the multitude of other factors that determine an individual or family’s ability to escape poverty. In his presentation, Reno-Weber emphasized the importance of converting data into stories that connecting with policymakers.
- Maryam Ahmed and Shelton McElroy from Louisville Metro’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods emphasized the often-overlooked connection between violence and health equity, highlighting several programs designed to reduce violence and cultivate resilience among young adults living in Jefferson County.
- T Gonzales and Aja Barber from Louisville Metro’s Center for Health Equity oriented participants to the history of segregation in Jefferson County and its relation to current health gaps by race and place. The duo also discussed CHE’s racial equity training program and the development of the center’s Health Equity Report.
- Representatives from Louisville Housing Authority and Louisville Metro Vacant and Public Property Administration led a mobile tour of Jefferson County’s current affordable housing and economic development projects.
- Community Foundation of Louisville and Lift a Life Foundation’s Hunger Innovation Fellow, Monique Quarterman, outlined Jefferson County’s food access landscape and provided and discussed strategies fostering inclusive community research.
- Theo Edmonds and Josh Miller, Co-Founders of Ideas xLab—a creative non-profit that leverages “culturally-driven design” to improve population health—led participants on a mobile tour of their site transformation projects in Jefferson County’s historic Smoketown neighborhood. Along the way, they detailed their organization’s cultural innovation model, underscoring the importance of designing programs and policies that center community, reflect empathy, and operationalize hope.
Attendees emphasized their resolve to use the lessons learned at the Exchange to take action in their communities. “With NACo, we have been able to actually dream about health for all” said Commissioner Carter. “We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for in county government.”