Photo courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Dr. Veronica Ray consults with a patient at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham, N.C. A federally qualified health center, Lincoln receives funding from Durham County and sees some 40,000 patients a year, 80 percent of them uninsured.
hundred twenty-four miles separate Buncombe and Durham counties along
Interstate 40 in North Carolina. But they couldn’t be closer when it comes to their
priorities to improve the health of their communities — and now they’re
receiving recognition for it.
counties, along with Spokane County, Wash., are among six communities
nationwide to receive a RWJF Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation. The honor brings with it a no-strings-attached $25,000 award to
each of the winners, who were announced at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen
(Pitkin County), Colo. on June 25.
Recognizing all three counties’ accomplishments,
NACo President Linda Langston, supervisor, Linn County, Iowa, said:
“Counties play a vital role in the health and well-being of their residents,
and local communities like these are fostering comprehensive, long-lasting
approaches to healthier living.”
was a common theme in all of the winning communities. In profiles (available
online), RWJF described their efforts.
County, N.C. (pop. 238,300)
2013, Buncombe County Health and Human Services convened the Public Health
Advisory Council. Its members include an array of community stakeholders, such
as the YMCA of Western North Carolina, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce,
health care professionals, transportation experts and environmental
organizations, among others.
council has led and supported a number of initiatives, including the Innovative
Approaches project, which brings pediatricians, parents and support agencies
together to improve quality of care for children with special health care
the support of the county commissioners and county government,” she said, “my
staff are the ones that have been facilitating the process of pulling the
community together around these priorities and really helping us focus and hone
and leverage the work that we’re doing in our community to try to really make a
County, N.C. (pop. 267,600)
a program called Project Access of Durham County, more than 700 health
care providers have volunteered their time to serve more 4,300 patients through
a network of clinics and private providers, laboratories, pharmacies and
hospitals over the past four years.
Harris, Durham County health director, said the County Board has committed
$400,000 for staffing and infrastructure to Project Access, which provides the
care at the county’s federally qualified health center, Lincoln Community
RWJF also highlighted positive outcomes of the
county’s community health needs assessment. It found that many Durham County residents
prefer to exercise close to home. As a result, two marked “Healthy Mile
Trails” were created to provide exercise opportunities in underserved
communities, and others are in the works.
For Harris, who’s been with the health department
for more than 40 years, the recognition couldn’t come at a better time.
“I think that the synergy that’s there, in next 10
years I think you’ll see some amazing things,” she said. Recently
the city of Durham, the county and the board of education launched an
initiative to reduce poverty in the community’s most distressed neighborhoods —
“one neighborhood at a time,” she added. “It’s really going to be a wonderful
process to be a part of.”
Spokane County, Wash.
In Spokane County, community partners have
recognized the impact that education can have on long-term health, according to
County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn, and are expanding educational opportunities
to empower young people.
She serves on the board of Priority Spokane and the
county’s regional health district. “We came together and surveyed our community
and created task forces around environment, education, transportation, health,
economic vitality and pulled in community members,” she said. Every task force
unanimously agreed that a focus on educational attainment would “move the
needle” in all of those areas.
“We have data, and a good part of it is data that
came from Spokane regional health district that clearly shows that education is
linked to health,” she said, noting that one data point showed that people with
less than a high school education have twice as much cardiovascular disease as
those who have graduated from college.
School-focused initiatives in the county include skill-building
training sessions for young students, an early-warning system to monitor
student attendance and grades, and targeted dropout-prevention programs
designed to be supportive rather than punitive.
These programs appear to be working. In 2006, the
overall high school graduation rate for Spokane County rate was 72.9 percent.
By 2013, the rate was 81 percent.
Gibbie was quick to share the spotlight with the
folks back home, echoing her co-winners sentiments. “We have had the honor and
the pleasure of attending this conference and representing our community,” she
said. “But it is the work of county government and all of our community
partners that is really making this possible, and they should receive full
credit for the work that’s being done that made this possible.”