Improving Community Health in the Garden State

Guest author Deborah Levine shares with mayors and community leaders her city’s blueprint for coordinating better overall health outcomes in their communities.

The city of Trenton holds a weekly farmer’s market at Trinity Cathedral, a safe and accessible location for West Ward residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

The city of Trenton holds a weekly farmer’s market at Trinity Cathedral, a safe and accessible location for West Ward residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

This is a guest post by Deborah Levine.

New Jersey is geographically, economically and ethnically diverse. We are also diverse in terms of health outcomes. Life expectancy, for example, varies widely across the state, ranging from 73 years in Trenton to 87 years in neighboring Princeton Junction. So how do we address the varying health needs of our residents?

At the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, we help communities bring their resources and residents together to create healthier places for people to live and thrive, and our Mayors Wellness Campaign gives New Jersey mayors tools and strategies to champion healthy and active living. The Mayors Wellness Campaign celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and serves over 380 mayors and communities across New Jersey.

A new and exciting project of the Mayors Wellness Campaign, supported by a three-year partnership grant with the United Health Foundation, allows us to work intensively with civic leaders and health care providers in three specific communities: Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County. We are helping these communities address pressing health challenges identified in their Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs). CHNAs are created by tax-exempt hospitals every three to five years to monitor and improve community health outcomes. Here is our blueprint for mayors and community leaders to coordinate better overall health — a framework we believe can help any community.

Cumberland County offers free health screenings and healthy recipe ideas to residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

Cumberland County offers free health screenings and healthy recipe ideas to residents. (photo: New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute)

The Blueprint

  • Read the CHNAs of hospitals in your community to identify pressing health challenges. As we looked at CHNAs from hospitals across New Jersey, the CHNAs from Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County stood out, as each identified the need for improved health literacy and chronic disease management, and increased access to healthy lifestyle initiatives.
  • Connect with existing community partnerships. Through our work with Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County, we focused on strengthening existing partnerships among public and private entities. In Jersey City we partnered with Jersey City Medical Center and the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services. In Trenton we partnered with the Trenton Health Team. In Cumberland County we partnered with Inspira Health Network and the Cumberland County Health Department.
  • Identify community goals. Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County are strikingly different from each another, and so are their health goals. Jersey City is the second largest city in New Jersey, and one of its top priorities is increasing access to healthy food. Trenton is the state capital and was once a major manufacturing center. One of its top priorities is to improve health literacy. Cumberland County is a large rural county that boasts sweet New Jersey produce, and is home to a large migrant farmer population. In 2010, Cumberland County was ranked 21st out of 21 New Jersey counties on the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings and Roadmap. This sparked the creation of the Cumberland Salem Gloucester Health and Wellness Alliance, which prioritizes healthy corner stores and workplace wellness programs.
  • Invest in no-to-low cost sustainable programming. Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County were all making strides in addressing health challenges, but with limited staffing and financial resources the sustainability of these programs was questionable. The Quality Institute’s Mayors Wellness Campaign supports educational opportunities for residents of Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County, and funds educational materials in languages unique to each community’s populations. We have also formed a relationship with Aunt Bertha, a social services search engine, to create unique search engines for Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County.
  • Maintain the momentum. Once you have identified the health needs of your community, establish ongoing partnerships with local champions like hospitals, health departments, and volunteers who can identify opportunities for health and wellness activities. Through the Mayors Wellness Campaign, the Quality Institute harnesses partnerships between civic and provider leaders in Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County to drive change at the local level. It is through these partnerships that true change happens.
Jersey City conducts a supermarket education tour. (photo: Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop)

Jersey City conducts a supermarket education tour. (photo: Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop)

Healthy Partnerships

In response to recent CHNAs, Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County are harnessing local partnerships and taking action by investing in their residents at a grassroots level. Jersey City Medical Center and the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services partner to hold health fairs and educational supermarket tours. The Trenton Health Team partners with more than 50 local organizations including two hospitals, a Federally Qualified Health Center, and the City of Trenton Department of Health and Human Services to improve the health care experiences and outcomes of its residents. Inspira Health Network and the Cumberland County Health Department collaborate through the Cumberland Salem Gloucester Health and Wellness Alliance to improve community health education, physical activity, and chronic disease management among Cumberland County residents.

No two communities have identical health needs – but when municipal leaders and community providers join together and put forth a mighty effort to address the overall health of their residents, real advances become possible.

deborah_levine_125x150About the author: Deborah Levine is the Director of Community Heath at the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. In this role, Ms. Levine directs the Mayors Wellness Campaign, serving as a resource for mayors who wish to promote health and wellness initiatives in their towns.