Much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office—in our schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. The ability to find good jobs, to prepare children for college and career success, to establish financial security, and to live in safe communities that promote positive relationships among family and friends are not usually thought of as health interventions. However, these factors play an important role in our ability to lead long and healthy lives.
The County Health Rankings, released annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), rank the health of counties throughout the nation and clearly show how social and economic factors impact health. They emphasize the role that key factors such as education, income and employment, family and social connectedness, and community safety play in building healthy communities. However, efforts to address these factors often occur within individual sectors and focus on short-term goals like expanding effective programs. But what if those efforts could be broadened? How might the vision and impact be expanded if those efforts were organized to include participants from multiple sectors such as health, the business community, or policymakers? Might they achieve meaningful, long-term policy change? And what strategies and tactics would a coalition formed from a diverse group of organizations undertake?
The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants, a key part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program which is led by UWPHI and RWJF, intend to answer the above questions by supporting communities so they can lead by example.
An initial round of Roadmaps to Health Community Grants were awarded in 2011 to 12 organizations that are working to address one of the social or economic factors to improve the health of their communities. The grantees are demonstrating how to engage policymakers, community members, and the media in addressing the social and economic issues that affect their communities. For example, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and its partners are using their Roadmaps to Health Community Grant funding to increase access to high-quality early learning programs and to help Providence youth successfully enroll in and graduate from college—helping to ensure that they lead long, healthy lives. The coalition includes leaders from education, health, other nonprofits, and local elected officials. Their project is using the RWJF funding to engage in non-lobbying education and advocacy to increase funding for public pre-kindergarten, change the state’s education funding formula, expand the availability of full-day kindergarten, develop an early warning system to identify students at risk of dropping out of high school, implement a more rigorous high school curriculum, and increase support for students applying to colleges and universities.
Expanding the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants to new communities
With a dozen projects already underway, on February 28th 2012, RWJF and Community Catalyst issued a call for proposals for the second round of funding under the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants program. Brief proposals are due on May 2nd, and interested individuals should review the call for proposals, which outlines the goals, selection criteria, and application process for this grant opportunity.
Grantees will receive up to $200,000 over two years to demonstrate how a range of partners from multiple sectors in their communities can work together to translate the County Health Rankings into action and work towards improving health. The $200,000 grants are coupled with community-identified matching funds of $200,000 (50% of which must be cash with the balance as in-kind support) to provide a total of $400,000 to support their efforts. Grantees must be established coalitions or networks that span multiple sectors and perspectives, including representatives such as business, education, public health, health care, community organizations, community members, policy advocates, foundations, and policymakers. Applicants must engage community members in the planning and implementation of projects, and must collaborate with organizations having expertise in improving the health of the public.
Ultimately, these grants will help communities use data and evidence to pursue policy or system changes that address the social and economic factors that most strongly influence health.
Phillip O. González is a Program Director at Community Catalyst, a national non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to quality affordable health care for all.