2016: the Year in Review

2016 marks the end of year two in our ten-year project to make a meaningful, sustainable improvement in how health is understood and achieved in five communities across the US. With that as a backdrop, here’s a look back at some notable events of the past year.

The Wellville National Team

In 2016 we assigned each of the five members of the national team to one of the five communities. This has proved a smart move – we are involved in more of the day-to-day work, and our relationships in our communities have deepened and broadened. Additionally, we changed the roster of communities participating in the project – replacing Niagara Falls, NY, with North Hartford, CT, a community better positioned to make the most of the opportunity.

We held our third annual Gathering of Wellville communities and invited guests – in Spartanburg, SC – which was, according to attendees, a valuable experience. The event gave the teams representing each of our five communities a chance to learn from one another and from experts in areas related to their work (including alternative financing, community building, business engagement, diabetes, obesity and substance abuse), as well as plenty of unstructured time for sharing experiences with each other. And the work required to produce the event fortified our relationship with the lead team in Spartanburg.

Looking ahead, in 2017 we will build on the momentum from 2016, with the goal of launching in each of the five communities at least one serious, quantified, budgeted-for, outcome-specified initiative. We will also continue to flesh out the Wellville story (see our new data visualizations here), as part of our ongoing effort to attract interest in and additional support for the Wellville movement.

Clatsop County, OR

2016 closed with a bang for the team in Clatsop County, with the announcement that they have been named one of eight recipients of a U.S. Department of Education grant to conduct a feasibility study for a pay-for-success high-quality universal pre-K program. The $350,000 grant follows months of intense work spearheaded by Wellville coordinator Sydney Van Dusen and local education leader Dan Gaffney. Over the past year they were tireless in their efforts to learn from experts across the county, to align local stakeholders, and to draft and redraft a can’t-lose grant application. We’re proud of and happy for the Clatsop team. We know how hard they worked – through frustrations and early disappointments – and believe their persistence and desire to learn new lessons is the essence of Wellville. Congratulations to Clatsop!

Lake County, CA

A good part of 2016 was spent in efforts to help Lake County recover from a series of devastating wild fires. Hope Rising, the local Wellville coalition, underwent organizational changes partly in response to recovery efforts. Those changes are still sorting out, and we expect a new governance structure will emerge in 2017, and guide the work of the coalition in the coming years. And in the meantime, the focus of the work in Lake County, for both the National Wellville team and the local coalition, is establishing a working relationship between the county’s two health systems to address one health-related, community-impact initiative, most likely substance abuse. In 2017, we expect to see Sutter Health and Adventist Health join forces to make a measurable improvement on a region-wide epidemic of opioid abuse.

Muskegon County, MI

In Muskegon County, significant progress has been made in understanding the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) over the course of individuals’ lives across a wide swath of the population. A community-wide survey determining the extent to which ACEs pervades the community was completed, and the awareness-raising campaign has evolved to reflect an action orientation. The community is now primed to embrace “Resilience Muskegon,” an initiative to provide the education and resources to help people live rich lives in spite of challenging past experiences.

In addition, Muskegon is now figuring out how to realize its goal of making health coaches accessible to every member of the community, with a focus on reducing obesity.

North Hartford, CT

Our newest community joins the Wellville roster already well on their way to Wellville. They bring significant resources to the journey: a well-established backbone organization (Community Solutions), a successful community health worker program now being scaled, physical and economic development (the Swift Factory building), the commitment of anchor institutions such as Saint Francis Hospital, and a strategic framework to guide the project (the North Hartford Triple Aim: improved health, wellbeing and value of investment). 2017 will pick up where 2016 left off, with a full-court press on establishing the North Hartford Triple Aim Collaborative – leveraging the city’s Promise Zone designation and including state and local government agencies; local health systems and payers; foundations and community-based organizations; and, critically, residents. The focus of the Collaborative: to drive all efforts toward the objectives defined by the North Hartford Triple Aim.

Spartanburg, SC:

In early 2017, the local Wellville coalition expects an announcement on its application to the Nonprofit Finance Fund for transaction structure financing to establish a continuum of services to children (0-5 years of age) in Spartanburg (650 babies born every year). This initiative is an exemplar of the Wellville ethos of “learning through action,” having hatched as a pre-K program and evolved to a cradle-to-kindergarten program to help Spartanburg families flourish. Another of the Spartanburg Wellville initiatives – Neighborhood Engagement – has enjoyed a healthy balance of successes and failures, and retains its guiding vision of hearing the voices of residents in five neighborhoods on matters they themselves define as most important. And in a fortuitous bit of synchronicity, a Bloomberg Foundation public-arts project using video production tools will be leveraged to focus the Neighborhood Engagement listening campaign.

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Spartanburg City Council acknowledges, apologizes for systemic racism

Last Monday the Spartanburg City Council approved unanimously a “Healing, Reconciling and Unity” resolution, acknowledging “the historical antecedents of systemic racism” and apologizing to residents for “racial injustices and long-lasting inequities that have resulted from those policies.” The unprecedented resolution also enumerates specific actions Council members will take, including to “promote racial equity through all policies approved by City Council” and “support community efforts to amplify concerns about racist policies and practices.”

Anti-Discrimination Law Passes Thanks to Hartford Students

The Hartford City Council passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists or bantu knots. The bill was introduced to the Council by students in Advocacy to Legacy, a nonprofit organization that teaches individuals and communities how to advocate for themselves.

Close the gap: Racial equity is fundamental to our health

There is so much in our hearts and minds following these tumultuous past few months and intense past few days. This is a moment to consider the causes of the consequences that are now on full display. It’s time to call out what led to such health disparities and what will it take to improve outcomes for all.

All Hands on Deck

When Covid-19 hit the US, we asked ourselves: Now that everyone is just trying to stay alive and save jobs, is Wellville just a distraction? We can’t just preach about the long term and what people want to achieve by the end of the Wellville project while they are busy responding to the short term. Instead, we tried a different question: How can we build a better long-term future even as we address current needs?

SAMHSA Evaluators Rave About Muskegon’s MYalliance

Officials with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration traveled to Muskegon at the end of August to review the progress of MYalliance System of Care (SOC), a collaboration between youth, families, schools, and other child-serving agencies to better serve youth with complex needs and their families. The SAMHSA evaluators were inspired by “visionary leadership across agencies and youth and families” and said their experience in Muskegon was “not their usual site visit.”