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NACo > County Solutions > County Solutions Blog > Posts > Health Beyond Health Care: How Counties Are Improving Community Health by Focusing on Issues Other Than Clinical Services and Access to Care
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NACo
County Solutions and Innovation Blog​​
June 26
Health Beyond Health Care: How Counties Are Improving Community Health by Focusing on Issues Other Than Clinical Services and Access to Care

​Written by Andrew Whitacre​, NACo Health Associate.

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This blog post is part of a series highlighting counties that are working to improve public health by focusing on issues outside of clinical services and access to care. The post was adapted from answers provided by the county to a series of questions about their public health programs. This series will lead up to an interactive workshop at NACo’s 79th Annual Conference and Exposition in Orleans Parish, Louisiana on Sunday, July 13th from 2:30-4pm that explores how counties are looking beyond clinical services and access to care to improve the health of their communities.

Wyandotte County, Kans. has a population of over 160,000 people and is part of a unified government with Kansas City, Kan. The 2009 County Health Rankings listed Wyandotte County as last in the state of Kansas in health outcomes and factors. This led Mayor Joe Reardon to convene a set of community stakeholders in an 18-month, community health improvement planning process that engaged leaders and residents in the community. The end result was a plan that settled on five focus areas: Communications, Education, Health Services, Infrastructure and Nutrition. These areas were chosen because the county believed, based on the County Health Rankings, that addressing the social determinants of health would make the most difference in the community.

HCW-Recommendations.pngFor more information on the report that came out of that process, visit the Recommendations for a Better Future.

In addressing the social determinants of health, the county engaged stakeholders from a broad cross section of the community in the original planning process. The Mayor and the Director of the Health Department championed this effort through their Healthy Communities Wyandotte program.  The county’s rank as last in the state in the County Health Rankings created a sense of crisis that brought the community together. Stakeholders included members of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), business, education, non-profit and government sectors. These early partnerships made implementation more seamless as relationships were already forged.

Healthy Communities Wyandotte is led by a 20-member Steering Committee, made of up CEO-level leaders from every sector in the community, including the Mayor. The Steering Committee helps guide strategy and provides direction for the initiative. It also uses its unified leadership voice to advocate for healthier local policies. Under the Steering Committee are five action teams, working on focus areas identified during the community health improvement planning process. The teams include roughly 15 members, drawn from local organizations and interested resident leaders. Each team is chaired by a respected county leader, all of whom lead (or have led) important organizations working in their respective issue area.

The Unified Government Board of Commissioners has adopted the community health improvement plan in their strategic plan. This dramatically raised the importance of health for local government, and encouraged many more departments to look at their work through the “health lens.” The county is experiencing an unprecedented level of collaboration between government departments because of the Board of Commissioners’ leadership on this issue.

Wyandotte County has a number of initiatives that utilize this cross-sector collaboration to address health. Enroll Wyandotte is an effort to connect members of the community with new Health Insurance Marketplace plans that brought together the public health department, the Mayor’s office, community health organizations, clinics, libraries, schools, universities and neighborhood groups. Starting with no resources, the county was able to help 600 Wyandotte County residents through the application process, and educate over 4,000 residents about new health coverage options. This initiative never would have materialized were it not for relationships built and past work done across sectors as a part of Healthy Communities Wyandotte efforts.

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The 2014 Wyandotte County Mayor’s Food Summit is another example of effective cross-sector collaboration. It was the first event of its kind in Wyandotte County and included 240 community leaders. The half-day event focused on giving participants the tools to increase access to healthy food in their sphere of influence. Target attendees were broken into four groups: school district officials, leaders in emergency food assistance, organizational/business leaders and individuals interested in food access policy and planning. An evaluation of the summit revealed that 93 percent of attendees believed that the information presented will help them be more effective promoting healthy food access in their setting, and 79 percent formed partnerships during the summit that will lead to increased collaboration. The event was a success because the planning committee involved more than 25 organizations which reached out to their broad networks to urge participation.

Recently, Mayor Mark Holland hosted a town hall, with more than 270 residents in attendance, to discuss plans for a new Healthy Campus development downtown. This project is a $30 million combined community center and grocery store that seeks to revitalize the downtown area and provide healthier options for nearby residents who live in a large food desert. Additionally, a local health foundation awarded a $1 million grant to help build the campus, the single largest gift in its history. Both the community interest and the resources generated are a testament to the sea change caused by the County Health Rankings and the Healthy Communities Wyandotte response.

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For more information on the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, listen to the NACo podcast or visit countyhealthrankings.org.

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At NACo’s 79th Annual Conference: County Solutions and Ideas Marketplace in New Orleans Parish, La., County Solutions and Innovation (CSI) will hold an interactive workshop Sunday, July 13 from 2:30-4:00pm that explores what counties can do and are doing to look beyond clinical services and access to care to improve the health of their communities. The workshop will provide participants with an opportunity to share best practices and network with other counties on this important topic. Click to register.

​To learn more about the Community Dialogues to Improve County Health and NACo’s Elected County Officials’ Guide to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, please contact Andrew Whitacre, Health Associate, awhitacre@naco.org or 202.942.4215.​​

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