« May 2018 Issue

Fostering State and Local Partnerships to Improve Community Health and Advance Equity

“I had no clue how long and deep health care goes,” said Reverend Michelle Simmons from Why Not Prosper, an organization in Philadelphia that provides services and supports for women reentering the community from the criminal justice system.

When incarcerated women leave prison in one county and return to their home community in a different county, they often lose Medicaid coverage due to the inability to transfer coverage between counties. Why Not Prosper saw a need to better understand and document the gaps in coverage these women face. With support from Community Catalyst through its Partnering for Community Health project, Rev. Michelle forged a partnership with Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) to identify barriers to Medicaid access and gather data from women experiencing such coverage gaps. To date, PHAN and Why Not Prosper have gathered over 200 surveys from women in the reentry process. Together, they then launched a coalition to both identify patches for obtaining coverage in the short-run and to amplify these women’s challenges to key Medicaid agency staff. The ultimate goal is to push Medicaid to fix intergovernmental transfers that are causing women to be dropped from coverage.

Community Catalyst provides ongoing support in this process through strategic coaching and help with developing coalition materials. “Community Catalyst is an excellent resource for helping us navigate the challenges related to new local partner development,” said Patrick Keenan, director of Consumer Protections and Policy at PHAN. With a new coalition and leadership team, including future leaders and advocates, PHAN and Why Not Prosper are now poised to address these community-specific barriers with the resources and network of a large, state-based organization and the expertise of a small local non-profit.

Connecting state and local partners offers promise

The Community Catalyst Partnering for Community Health project, which is made possible by the Kresge Foundation, seeks to advance health equity by forging relationships between state-level health advocacy organizations and local non-profits that are deeply engaged at the community level. The project cohort includes partnerships in Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Georgia. In each state, the project’s unique partnerships are innovating by connecting state-level opportunities within Medicaid to community-level advocacy. According to Project Director Eva Stahl, “One of the central aims is to increase alignment across social services and health services with the understanding that localities can serve as ideal environments in which to build the relationships needed to advance cross-sector collaboration.”

Partnering for Community Health Projects at a Glance

State-Local Partnership Project Year One Interim Outcomes
Georgians for a Healthy Future & Step Up Savannah, Chatham Safety Net Council and Gateway Behavioral Health Council Partnering to address gaps in behavioral health services for youth across multiple systems including schools, juvenile justice system and behavioral health providers Surveyed providers, families and systems and identified key gaps including transportation, reimbursement and workforce
NC Benchmarks, NC Child & Partnering for Community Prosperity Community Advisory Council Partnering to align health and human services in Shelby, NC through a community-driven collaborative process working to improve health outcomes for children and families Created a blueprint for health and human service alignment and took steps to address local transportation access and located some social services inside Shelby elementary school
Pennsylvania Health Access Network & Why Not Prosper Partnering to identify and address gaps in Medicaid coverage for women re-entering Philadelphia and build a sustained movement for continuous access to needed services for women facing adversity Surveyed over 200 women regarding their access to Medicaid coverage and other services upon reentry and jumpstarted a coalition table to address gaps and provide feedback
Tennessee Justice Center & Martha O’Bryan Center Partnering to strengthen trauma-informed care practices and systems in the state’s Medicaid program Strong partnership built between Martha O’Bryan’s Family Resource Council (FRC) and Tennessee Justice Center; FRC members helping to collect health access surveys from community members in East Nashville (over 30 so far) and identify health care gaps

Start small, think big

In the city of Shelby, North Carolina, a group of community leaders sought to improve community well-being in light of staggeringly poor health outcomes and intergenerational poverty. NC Benchmarks, a statewide social services collaborative, dedicated its capacity to building necessary infrastructure to support a community-driven model working to improve the health of children and families through aligned seamless services for residents. Leveraging a “community quarterback” – or a local consumer leader and liaison – and a community advisory group to guide the project work, the community worked with county leadership to build a roadmap for better health entitled Partnering for Prosperity. The project leverages the local elementary school as a hub for aligned health and human services and receives support from cross-sector county leaders in public health, behavioral health, education and social services. In a first “win,” the project leveraged community advisory feedback and developed a new bus stop in a well-lit area that would enable residents to safely access health services. As a result, community members are increasingly using the bus system, called West End Reach Transit. The Partnering for Prosperity project envisions the new bus route as a way to engage and support community access to an array of services as they advance their vision in year two. NC Benchmarks and its ally, NC Child, are also using lessons from Shelby to inform state-level Medicaid efforts to address social determinants of health.

Stay tuned.

While entering its second year, the Partnering for Community Health project is working to highlight best practices. “Within this diverse set of efforts to advance equity, we hope to lift up strategies and tactics that advocates can use to successfully build bridges across sectors and improve health outcomes for underserved communities,” says Stahl. “Each solution or pathway will look different because it is tailored to a local context – yet the skills and knowledge of advocates are consistent. They are vital to ensuring the success of community-driven solutions.”

The project is already showing results. In Savannah, Georgia, advocates and their partners were able to obtain an on-site behavioral health provider in in the juvenile justice court, reducing wait times for youth awaiting behavioral health screening. State-level advocacy partner Georgians for a Healthy Future is connecting the Savannah work to broader efforts in the state to address behavioral health for low-income children and youth and highlight stories as part of its Close the Gap Medicaid campaign. In Tennessee, the Tennessee Justice Center is providing trainings on Medicaid to social services partners. Sharing knowledge, skills and resources across sectors is the first step in developing a system that serves a whole person and whole community. The state-community partnerships are creating important trust building and learning opportunities for both state and local groups to innovate and lead locally, building out the evidence base and consumer demand for Medicaid state-level systems change.

“We’re excited about the progress being made and we’ve only just started!” exclaimed Stahl.

Priyanka Padidam is an intern with the communications team at Community Catalyst. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Tufts University where she studied Community Health and English.

O N   T H E   W I R E

2018 marks Community Catalyst’s 20th Anniversary! Stay tuned for updates related to this milestone.

Rob Restuccia, executive director, and Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, co-authored an op-ed in CommonWealth Magazine about how the 30th anniversary of the Universal Health Care Law in Massachusetts spurred the last three decades of consumer-led advocacy on health care at both the state and federal level.

Rob also teamed up with Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to write a post for JAMA Forum on the relationships between health and housing.

Sue Sherry, deputy director, talked to Marketplace about how hospital sale of patient debt is bad for consumers.

Center Director Ann Hwang, MD wrote about the connection between civic engagement and good health in Next Avenue, a national media service for older adults.

Join us in welcoming:

Pareesa Charmchi, State Advocacy Manager, Children’s Health Initiative and Jessie Zimmerer, State Advocacy Manager, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation

We are delighted to share the following promotions:

Dara Taylor to Director, Diversity & Inclusion (in addition to her role as Director of Consumer Assistance); Carrie Rogers to Project Manager, Expanding Coverage Through Consumer Assistance; Ana Maria De la Rosa to Senior State Advocacy Manager, Substance Use Disorders and Justice-Involved Populations; Marissa Korn to Program and Advocacy Associate, State Consumer Health Advocacy Project; Emily Polak to Program Director, State Consumer Health Advocacy Project; and Orla Kennedy to Policy Analyst, Substance Use Disorders Project and Justice-Involved Populations

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