The Duke Endowment launched its Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas Initiative in 2015 to help communities in North Carolina and South Carolina address chronic health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
With plans to expand throughout the Carolinas, Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas began with coalitions in five N.C. regions receiving $450,000 over three years. The local coalitions will engage leaders from a wide spectrum of area organizations in aligning existing programs and developing ways to help residents get involved in improving their health.
Rates of diabetes, heart disease and unhealthy weight are high throughout the Carolinas – and in many communities, those rates are higher than national averages. Research shows that about one in three people in North Carolina are considered obese, with similar rates of obesity found in South Carolina.
America’s Health Rankings, published by the United Health Foundation, reports that North Carolina ranked 31st overall in 2015; South Carolina ranked 42nd.
Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas recognizes that health and well-being are created and sustained not through individual and clinical efforts alone, but through the cooperation and support of the extended local community.
“In order to improve health, we must recognize that where we work or go to school, how we spend our free time – even our ability to access fresh food and exercise in a safe environment – all contribute to our health and well-being,” says Rhett Mabry, president of The Duke Endowment. “To improve health within a community, we have to expand how we think about what affects it locally. We need to address health improvement on the ground, at a very local level.”
The Duke Endowment has been a longtime supporter of statewide health improvement efforts.
In 2008, for example, the Endowment helped support a task force to research and study ways to improve public health by focusing on prevention. Led by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, the task force examined underlying causes of death and morbidity, looked at systemic health disparities in the state, and recommended dozens of prevention strategies to address root causes of poor health.
Based on the findings, the North Carolina Division of Public Health produced Healthy North Carolina 2020, a list of 13 key prevention focus areas for the state, supported by 40 targeted and measurable objectives.
In South Carolina, the Endowment has supported Alliance for a Healthier SC, a coalition of more than 50 executive leaders from diverse organizations working together to ensure that all people in the state have the opportunity to have healthier bodies, minds and communities.
Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas builds on those successful efforts by targeting resources to communities that have considerable health needs, but also the proven ability to take on local challenges. The model will help those communities tackle deeply entrenched and complex social problems to stimulate sustained improvement in population health.
The program is designed to support coalitions through collective impact and to enhance community capacity to implement evidence-based interventions. Performance metrics will be monitored throughout to help spur dramatic improvement.
Program goals include:
- Increase the number of highly effective community coalitions
- Increase the number of community residents engaged in health promoting activities
- Demonstrate the impact of health improvement efforts
First Five Coalitions
In November 2015, the Trustees of The Duke Endowment approved funding for five initial North Carolina communities to participate in the Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas program. Selected coalitions are serving Catawba, Chatham, Granville/Vance, Montgomery/Richmond and Wilkes counties.
Representatives from those coalitions are sharing information as they develop best practices for organizing, planning and implementing evidence-based programs known to improve health. At a kick-off meeting in March 2016, they heard about health improvement efforts from a national expert.
Population Health Improvement Partners, based in North Carolina, is providing technical assistance, helping the groups map assets in their communities and better understand the landscape. (The South Carolina Hospital Association will assemble a team to help the coalitions chosen in that state.)
“The coalitions selected by the Endowment are intentionally diverse and unique,” says Laura Edwards of Population Health Improvement Partners. “While there will be many opportunities for exchanging ideas, each community will receive support to pave its own path forward. The hope is that the lessons of the first five coalitions can inform the work of others throughout the Carolinas.”
Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas is on track to include up to 20 coalitions in both states. In May 2016, Endowment Trustees approved nearly $2 million in additional funding to support the technical assistance components of the program for two years.