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First Annual Round-up: A Year in Wellville

We’re a year into our five-year “Way to Wellville” challenge to produce health and wellbeing in five communities.

We chose applicant-communities who had already put a lot of wind in their sails in organizing their leadership. On the other hand, we chose communities whose poor county health rankings cried out for a new approach and increased accountability. Here are some of the year’s highlights in the “Wellville 5.”

A Focus on Children in Clatsop County

Clatsop County formed a community health group called CHART (Community Health Advocacy and Resource Team) four years ago with representatives from the medical and public health communities. Now, the effort includes leaders from government, public health, education, health care, food and business. This broadening of Clatsop’s health efforts is already paying dividends. In December, the Clatsop County Commissioner declared 2016 to be the Year of Wellness.

Sydney Van Dusen, Wellville’s coordinator in Clatsop, and Nancy Knopf, community health partnership manager for Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization and Wellville team member, are focusing on children as critical participants in Clatsop’s Wellville activities.

This year, Wellville applied for and won a grant from Providence Health for $40,000 to raise the emotional intelligence of the community, including support for screenings of the documentary Paper Tigers, the story of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, which reduced violence in the school by 75% through raising awareness of adverse childhood experiences (ACES), mostly by training teachers. The Providence Health award also covers RX for play, which prescribers give to patients for physical activity, and funding to cover costs at local Parks and Recreation districts.

Soon, Clatsop will progress to measuring results. Clatsop County is positioning itself for Pay for Success (PFS) financing for investing in children, including the Nurse-Family Partnership for at-risk pregnant mothers, universal pre-kindergarten and a program to prevent children from entering foster care. Few communities have the expertise to structure these complex vehicles, and HICCup’s Marya Stark worked with Nancy Knopf to help Clatsop win technical assistance for a Pay for Prevention program for preventing children from entering foster care and will continue working with Clatsop on next steps for an integrated approach to PFS financing for children.

Crisis Response in Lake County

In August and September, Lake County fires destroyed 600 of 789 homes in the Cobb community, a rate that parallels the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. A total of 1,400 homes were burned in the wider area. Fortunately, Wellville leaders Susan Jen and Shelly Mascari had been working to grow Lake County’s Wellville initiatives under the banner Hope Rising even before the fires occurred. Shelly Mascari is now Chair of the county-wide relief effort and full-time leader of Hope Rising (seconded from Adventist Health). Hope Rising quickly launched a communication strategy, including a website with a volunteer intake form to register residents in need and rally volunteers. All the major local service providers agreed to use Hope Rising’s form to coordinate relief efforts.

More resources are coming from FEMA and state and local authorities, and Wellville is involved in using them effectively. Marvin Avilez will be spending much of January working with the Wellville team on a long-term disaster recovery plan.

Other recent awards include:

  • The CDC awarded Lake County $472,000 per year for two years for a Partnerships to Improve Community Health Policy, Systems and Environment grant. This grant covers Wellness Rx for exercise and healthy diet, worksite wellness, and improvements to restaurant and retail food. The team also launched a new healthy living resource guide called “Be Well Lake County CA” – with the website The goal of this is access to healthy food and physical fitness for over 75% of the county. Hope Rising will help to use these funds and to measure the initiative’s effectiveness.
  • The California Healthcare Foundation awarded $60,000 to Lake County for reduction of opioid usage. The grant will be used to strengthen the cross-county coalition called SafeRX Lake County. Its focuses are several: raising awareness among providers and members of the community of the risks of chronic opioid use, supporting alternative treatments, and adoption of consistent opioid prescribing guidelines and increased medication-assisted treatment. SafeRX will also promote policies to increase access to naloxone and to share data and outcomes with providers and the general public.

The Wellville Accelerator is working to address Lake County’s limited public transportation offerings. At a conference sponsored by Code for America, HICCup’s Esther Dyson and Marvin Avilez approached Lyft to introduce car sharing in Lake County. Lyft would not normally have expanded to a market as small as Lake County, but they have been open to working in Lake County to try out a new model for smaller communities.

Marya Stark invited Samaschool to bring their program to a local community college in Lake County. Samaschool provides education in computer work, such as web design and social media marketing. Marvin Avilez continues work on this opportunity to grow the digital workforce for Lake County.

Leadership Growth Through Action in Muskegon

Last summer Muskegon Heights Councilwoman Kim Sims (who recently was elected mayor) spearheaded a weekend of civic pride called Muskegon Might: an entrepreneur pitch weekend and a Saturday-night celebration at a pop-up restaurant in a closed storefront in the center of Muskegon Heights. The pop-up included large framed photos of Muskegon Heights in its heyday and a jazz performance, bringing a strong sense of renewal. Now the challenge is to convert that feeling into actual activity, including (possibly) a food hub and reopening of a local sports facility/swimming pool.

Hey Muskegon Say Boo To The Flu Flyer

Muskegon also benefits from a recently hired full-time Wellville coordinator, Jamie Helsen. Jamie’s position is funded by a public-private partnership between the Rotary Club and Public Health-Muskegon County  (including funds generated by the Seaway Run and Lake Michigan Half Marathon.)  Taking the baton from Gwen Williams, who is now working at Northwest Michigan Health Services, Jamie continues to build Muskegon’s leadership through programs like this Halloween’s fall flu drive targeting underserved populations, “Boo to the Flu.” Jamie recruited new volunteers and involved new (to Wellville) organizations, such as Project Homeless Connect and the local community college. For more on Boo to the Flu, read Wellville founder Esther Dyson’s write-up.

Wellville in Muskegon formed an ACES task force, which launched a comprehensive survey of trauma levels in the community. As awareness of childhood trauma and its correlates of depression, obesity and diabetes grows, Jamie hopes that Muskegonites will turn from the reflexive question “what’s wrong with you?” and instead ask the questions “What happened to you?” and “How are you handling it?”

To establish a baseline of adverse childhood experiences, the ACES task force, led by Lauren Meldrum of community mental health agency HealthWest, is working with Proof Pilot*, a community research tool, to survey 3,000 Muskegon residents. Jamie has coordinated training for over 70 volunteers to conduct the survey from local schools, churches and health care providers, including leaders from Mercy Health and the local Federal Qualified Health Center.

This month, Wellville’s team met twice with the Rotary Club’s 1 in 21 Executive Committee, which is developing its strategic plan and goals to reduce obesity and smoking. More on this in 2016!

Spartanburg’s National Recognition

Spartanburg has already produced impressive results with its health efforts over the past ten years. As one example of its successes, Spartanburg reduced its teen birth rate among females 15-19 from 60 births per 1,000 teens in 2008 to 30 births per 1,000 teens in 2015. While the teen birth rate is still higher than the average for South Carolina (29 per 1000), this improvement was achieved through sex education, outreach and the opening of a teen clinic.

The Wellville initiative in Spartanburg is led by a core team of six that represent The Mary Black Foundation, Spartanburg Regional Health System, University of South Carolina Upstate, the City of Spartanburg and small business. One of its priorities is increasing community pride in Spartanburg, and they have engaged researchers at Clemson University to monitor attitudes about Spartanburg expressed in social media.

Another priority is children’s education. Spartanburg received a grant for technical assistance from the Institute for Child Success to explore Pay for Success financing for universal pre-kindergarten. Spartanburg is taking an integrated approach to rolling out a full range of programs for children ages zero to five. Notably, this initiative resulted from an initial concern among local employers about college graduation rates, which led to the Spartanburg Academic Movement, founded in 2010. But they wisely focused on root causes, moving their focus from college to high school to grade school and now to early childhood education.

In efforts to improve coordinated care, Wellville is working with AccessHealth, which connects uninsured individuals with local health professionals that have donated their time. In 2013, AccessHealth served 2,000 out of the 40,000 uninsured adults in Spartanburg County. To help its care coordinators leverage their time, AccessHealth started using software from Wellville partner CareMessage in November. As a first step, care coordinators are sending text message appointment reminders to 200 of its patients. While its early days, case managers at AccessHealth have observed that patients are missing fewer appointments. They look forward to rolling out appointment reminders in coming months to all patients and adding chronic disease education from CareMessage to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

In recognition of Spartanburg’s early progress in addressing its health challenges, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation honored Spartanburg with its Culture of Health Prize this fall. This prize honors eight communities around the country this year for “creating a society that gives every person an opportunity to live the healthiest life they can.”

Community Engagement in Niagara Falls

Shelley Hirshberg is the volunteer leader of Wellville for the Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative. This collaborative, which has been working together since 2009 and is formally led by the Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, completed a comprehensive strategic plan at the end of 2014 and started 2015 with $250,000 in funding from the New York State Health Foundation as part of the Foundation’s Healthy Neighborhood Initiative. In 2015, based on the goals of the strategic plan, it launched three community work groups:  Healthy Food Healthy People, Home Ownership and Resident Engagement.

One initiative of the Healthy Food Healthy People Work Group was the launch of the Pop-Up Park concept to activate and engage Residents in Niagara Falls. In September over 60 neighborhood youth and 40 adult residents participated and used their imaginations to build, create and play. Future Pop-Up NF! events will  include play, music, art and food.

The Collaborative’s new Home Ownership Work Group is addressing the dramatic reduction in home ownership over the past few decades as a central challenge to health in Niagara Falls. With support and facilitation from ReThink Health, a resource brought to Niagara Falls by Wellville, this work group is evaluating the potential impact of raising the homeownership rate in the city.

Finally, the partners in the Collaborative are counting on the Resident Engagement Council to figure out how to encourage residents to participate in the health improvement efforts in Niagara Falls.

Wellville’s Road Ahead

We are simultaneously amazed at all the progress that has occurred in the past year and eager for more impact.

In the coming year, we will be focused on launching new projects and measuring their results. In particular, we hope to bring into the communities more corporate partners focused on delivering and measuring results with their products and services.

  • Obesity and diabetes are concerns in each of the Wellville communities and we are in discussions with Omada Health*, which has an online coaching program focused on behavior modification for pre-diabetic clients.
  • Likewise, smoking cessation is a priority across the Wellville communities. We are discussing potential partnership opportunities with GSK on improving the smoking quit rates in Wellville.
  • In Muskegon, a dentist at an FQHC told us that he performs tooth extractions on too many children’s baby teeth because parents are putting kids, including his own niece and nephew, to bed with juice boxes. We are in discussions with Colgate to improve oral health outcomes in Wellville, potentially leveraging the company’s Bright Smiles Bright Futures education, engaging parents, and better integrating community resources.

In everything we do, we focus on measurable outcomes, so that we know what’s working and can foster sharing of best practices among communities with similar challenges and goals.

In short, the Wellville communities have set the foundations for greater impact in the years ahead.

*Wellville founder Esther Dyson is an angel investor in Proof Pilot and Omada Health.

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