Delivery of Care

It is not about us and them, it is about we

One of the first health equity zones in RI takes shape in South County, focused on the healthy bodies, healthy minds of children

Photo by Richard Asinof

Gov. Gina Raimondo helps to launch the South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds health equity zone at a news conference on Oct. 9 at South County Hospital.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/12/15
The launch of South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, focused on children’s health, a new initiative that is part of 11 Health Equity Zones in Rhode Island, puts the focus on what happens outside of the clinical setting in improving health and well-being.
What was the glue that enabled the unprecedented collaboration to take place? Can it serve as tool for other health equity zones? How will health equity zones fit into the larger framework of health care delivery system transformation? What are the new kinds of data needs and analytics that are needed to help support the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds initiative?
With the launch of Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds during the same week that the new Sankofa Project officially unveiled its plans for the $13.8 million development featuring affordable homes amidst an urban farming hub, the connections between housing, health, nutrition and community became surprisingly visible, way above the radar screen. Both efforts are redefining community and collaboration in Rhode Island, one in an urban setting, one in a mostly rural setting. Stay attuned.

WAKEFIELD – On Oct. 9, in the main lobby of South County Hospital, the tangible results of one of the first 11 Health Equity Zones in Rhode Island was unveiled: the South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds community approach to promoting long-term health.

The effort is targeting childhood obesity and children’s mental health, based upon several evidence-based programs, working in a collaborative fashion with numerous partners. They include:

•    Healthy eating, working with Thundermist community health center to connect farmers markets with low-income residents.

•    Healthier lifestyles, fashioning a local approach to the national 5-2-1-0 campaign to help children adopt healthier activities, with 5 fruits and veggies a day; 2 hours or less of recreational screen time, 1 hour or more of physical activities, and 0 sugary drinks.

•    Early, early childhood literacy, promoting, as part of early well-baby visits by pediatricians, handing out books to parents to read to the baby, modeled on the evidence-based Reach Out and Read program.

•    Adolescent mental health, training educators and people who work with youth to recognize early warning signs, working in partnership with the Youth Mental Health First Aid program, active in all of the region’s school systems.

•   A deep data dive to identify those communities and neighborhoods in the region that appear to be facing the greatest challenges and health disparities, directed by Wood River Health Services, a community health center serving Washington County.

As Jim Berson, the chair of the South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds initiative and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Providence, who served as the emcee at the news conference, explained it, access to quality clinical health care only represents about 20 percent of what determines health and well-being, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other 80 percent of factors are physical environment, health behavior, and social and economic determinants that happen outside a doctor’s office.

Unprecedented collaboration
The official launch of Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds featured Gov. Gina Raimondo, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the R.I. Department of Health, Eve Keenan, chair of the board of trustees at South County Health, Chuck Jones, the president and CEO of Thundermist, Michael Lichtenstein, the president and CEO of Wood River Health Services, serving Washington County, and Susan Orban, the director of Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds.

In the audience was Ana Novais of the R.I. Department of Health, who has shepherded the development of the first 11 health equity zones in Rhode Island, which was funded through an award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This isn’t top down, this is bottom up,” said Orban, in an interview with ConvergenceRI after the news conference. “It’s the only way we’re going to be able to make a difference.

Orban stressed the importance of listening skills in the collaborative approach. “You have to be prepared and open to what you might learn, and you can’t come in with pre-conceived notions.”

It requires a level of trust, Orban continued. “That’s essential for the work going forward, and for people to be able to open up and share their thoughts; they have to know that you genuinely care about what they have to say.”

Orban, who has led and facilitated the work of the Washington County Coalition for Children for more than a decade, praised the leadership of Louis Giancola, the president and CEO of South County Health, in helping to shepherd the new initiative.

“There’s no question that he’s been a leader and champion and chief cheerleader in this effort,” Orban said. “He understands the issues in a way that many people don’t. It’s not about him, it’s about what’s best for the community. He’s been wonderful with working to engage all of our partners.”

When asked what was most impressive about the new initiative, Orban stressed that it was the unprecedented collaboration. “I am still in awe of it, to have URI and all seven school districts, and both hospitals, and many social service agencies and their leaders, and the town planning offices, all excited about this work. It really gives me hope for what we can accomplish.

Health equity
In introducing Dr. Alexander-Scott, Berson quoted the interview in ConvergenceRI with the director of the R.I. Department of Health and her wish that the agency’s name could be changed to include “health equity.”

Following the news conference, in an interview with ConvergenceRI, Berson defined what he saw as the concept of health equity. “I think it’s about equity and quality of access, and the equity of outcomes, in which we’re all able to participate.”

The other piece of it, Berson continued, “is that we’re all so interrelated and interdependent, the health and well-being of my neighbor affects me, the health and well-being of the child across the street or the child in another community affects me. It’s about recognizing that is not about us and them, it’s about we.”

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