How Have Other Local Health Departments Positioned Themselves as Community Chief Health Strategists? (Part 1)

How Have Other Local Health Departments Positioned Themselves as Community Chief Health Strategists? (Part 1)

We hope you’ve been following our blog article series on public health as the community chief health strategist.

If you read our recent blog article, “What is a Chief Health Strategist,” then you may remember that we shared an example of a local health department that was taking on the role of chief health strategist for their community: Tarrant County Public Health. We wanted to provide a couple more, in-depth examples of how other local health departments are taking on the role of chief health strategist for their communities.

Tarrant County Public Health’s experience in improving walkability in their community is only one example of an LHD successfully taking on the role of chief health strategist. Other health departments across the country are embracing this role and seeing positive changes in their communities.

Kanawha-Charleston Health Department

Kanawha-Charleston Health Department (KCHD) in West Virginia launched a community coalition in 2011 to address chronic health issues in their community. KCHD had noticed a problem; when programs were launched to address community health issues, they would quickly sputter out and dissolve as soon as funds ran out. They began seeking a solution to this problem and soon realized that a county-level coalition needed to be founded, bringing “stakeholders and institutions to a common table to talk about health,” with resources being brought in by partner agencies, allotted by the coalition, and resource recipients working together on complimentary efforts.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, then Health Officer and Executive Director of KCHD (now state health officer and commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and named “West Virginian of the Year” in 2017), shared some background on the coalition in a 2013 article for an issue of Trust for America’s Health, “… we saw this as an opportunity to obtain the kind of resources and support that could stand up programs and capacity which would then remain in place after grant dollars disappeared.”

He went on to share about how the local health departments (LHDs) formed cross-sector partnerships, “It became evident that the best conduit for the grant money and ideas to flow was through [LHDs]. Our plan was to position the LHDs from all 55 counties as wellness or healthy living hubs for their communities. They would work with the local and state Departments of Education, West Virginia’s Universities and the Osteopathic School to ensure plans would work and were research driven and connected to clinical settings …  Instead of each LHD getting their money and going home, it was clear the funding was to build capacity, i.e., the resources and ability to do things — sort of how it’s better to teach a man to fish than simply give him a fish.”

“Instead of each LHD getting their money and going home, it was clear the funding was to build capacity, i.e., the resources and ability to do things — sort of how it’s better to teach a man to fish than simply give him a fish.”

Dr. Rahul Gupta

Every three years, the coalition would conduct a needs assessment in the community to determine what needs existed and create plans to address them. They held community forums, conducted telephone surveys, convened focus groups, and collected key informant surveys.

Results of this community health strategizing were easily evident. In the same 2013 article, Dr. Gupta shared examples:

  • Kanawha County saw a near 100% compliance rate with their Comprehensive Clean Indoor Air Regulation (CIAR) – They built support for the CIAR by demonstrating medical benefits, using social media to spread awareness, and proving that the CIAR helped rather than hurt business. Engaging the entire community in the solution created a community of advocates in what had once been a tobacco-reliant community.
  • They also saw nearly a nearly 37% reduction in heart attack related hospital admission rates because of the CIAR – The CDC published an article about this success in 2011
  • The needs assessments they conducted revealed a lack of safe places in the community to work out or play. They were able to identify and address this need by building a Physical Activity Sites Google Map to help community members easily find physical activity opportunities and encourage them to take advantage. They were also able to implement physical activity in school and after school settings through initiatives and programs.
  • They also built referral networks between the clinical system and community-based lifestyle programs that could link physicians with a referral network outside the physician’s office to provide resources to patients.

All of these positive changes in the community were the result of the LHDs taking initiative and assuming the role of chief health strategist for their community, assessing needs, forming cross-sector partnerships, gathering data, and creating plans to address health issues. The role of chief health strategist is one that LHDs are uniquely positioned to excel in. Dr. Gupta stated, “LHDs were… the natural lead because they were trusted voices in the community and, quite simply, they weren’t going anywhere.”

The role of chief health strategist is one that LHDs are uniquely positioned to excel in. Dr. Gupta stated, “LHDs were… the natural lead because they were trusted voices in the community and, quite simply, they weren’t going anywhere.”

Note: You can read the source article here.

Next Steps:

Watch for Part 2 of this article or check out the rest of our series on public health as the community chief health strategist.

You can also register for our free Expert Webinar: Public Health as the Chief Health Strategist.

About the Author:

Crystal Maertens is the Marketing Specialist at Champ Software, Inc. Hailing from states across the Midwest, Crystal settled in Minnesota in 2005 and has been working with Champ Software since 2011. She loves working for a company with as much heart as Champ Software and enjoys making a difference in the lives of public health workers. An avid reader and writer, Crystal has written many blog articles for Champ Software and especially loves writing articles that feature Champ clients.

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