May 22, 2020 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Aligning Systems for Health has awarded $273K to the Arnold School’s Center for Community Health Alignment – one of seven recipients out of more than 150 applications for funding. In partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the Arnold School’s Core for Applied Research and Evaluation, the Center will learn from community engagement efforts in South Carolina to support better alignment of the health care, public health, and social services sectors with communities, to advance health equity.
“Successfully addressing the complex challenges that affect community health — such as COVID-19, maternal and infant mortality, food and housing insecurity, and the opioid epidemic — requires health care, public health, and social services to work together,” says Karen Minyard CEO of the Georgia Health Policy Center and principal investigator of Aligning Systems for Health. “But cross-sector alignment is more than collaborative planning or a single joint project. It requires fundamentally new ways of thinking and working together across sectors to build healthier and more equitable communities.”
Founded in 2013, the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina is a coalition of more than 50 leaders from a cross-sector of health care, public health, and social services organizations from throughout the state who work to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to have healthier bodies, minds and communities as well as lower health care costs. Over the past several years, the Alliance has been working with a diverse mix of state and local partners to develop the first-ever State Health Improvement Plan, Live Healthy SC.
“In order for health improvement efforts to be successful and sustainable, you have to engage with thought leaders in the community, which means sharing power throughout all phases of the planning, implementation and evaluation processes,” says Julie Smithwick, director of the Center for Community Health Alignment. “Community engagement is not always easy to do. With this study, our team will explore how to foster meaningful, grassroots community engagement through the lens of individuals within the community.”
“I’m positive that this research opportunity will help educate the Alliance and other partners on how to engage those with lived-experiences, and also inform us on how to best utilize the information we gather to address health inequities,” says Alliance director Monty Robertson.
Working with residents in four diverse communities around the state, community health workers will facilitate a series of individual and small group dialogues, to learn from community members and engagement facilitators. The project’s goal is to identify effective strategies for fostering intentional, meaningful alignment of health care, public health and social services with the communities most impacted by inequities.
The community health worker model already enhances health and well-being by leveraging the talents of community-vetted leaders to provide navigation, education and advocacy services to fellow residents. Based on evidence-based research, the Center’s Community Health Worker Institute provides training and support for community health workers. The community health workers’ role in the present study offers a natural extension of the services they already provide – building upon their capacity to work alongside health care, public health, and social service sectors using a cross-sector alignment model.
“We already know that the community health worker model is an effective way to deliver valuable core services, particularly in rural and underserved areas, and that community health workers have the ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances such as the current COVID-19 crisis,” says Andrea Heyward, systems integration manager at the Center for Community Health Alignment. “By harnessing the model’s existing infrastructure and these community leaders’ vast experiences and expertise, we hope to better understand how to achieve an inclusive, equitable community engagement process.”