Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh kicked off 2020 with a new Mayors Wellness Campaign (MWC) to prioritize the health of the city’s residents. There were community walks from City Hall to the Great Falls, an employee wellness program, and community aerobic classes.
Then, life as we knew it changed. Mayor Sayegh shared in a recent Op-Ed how Paterson quickly deployed its Mayors Wellness Campaign to respond to COVID-19. The city’s MWC refocused its efforts to address food insecurity by partnering with community groups to provide meals to older adults, for instance, and began working with the state to provide rapid COVID-19 testing in homeless shelters.
Indeed, Mayors across the state have refocused their MWC programming to respond to their communities’ changing needs during the global pandemic. The Quality Institute’s Mayors Wellness Campaign is helping towns in these important efforts. Over the last few months, we held focus groups in all 21 New Jersey counties to better understand local needs and priorities. Our key findings include:
- Residents’ mental health is a top concern for Mayors and public health officials. Increased isolation, lack of social connection, blurring of work and home boundaries, and fears created by the atmosphere of uncertainty have amplified the need for mental health services and support.
- Older adults need increased support services. This population is more vulnerable to COVID-19 and is more likely to be isolated due to social distancing and the closure of senior centers, libraries, and other community-based programs. Towns face challenges providing necessary services, such as meals and social opportunities, and are seeing an increase in calls for assistance.
- There is a great disparity across the 565 municipalities’ ability to respond to the new challenges presented by the pandemic. Towns vary in size, demographics, and resources. Many need more assistance from the state and non-public partners.
I share these findings to ask you, our members and partners in improving the health and wellness of our residents, to come together to support our communities. Many of you are already doing this work. For instance, Holy Name Medical Center partnered with the Township of Teaneck to aid in their COVID-19 response and to provide community education on how to continue to stay safe as the pandemic progresses.
Over the past few months, Cooper University Hospital collaborated with the MWC and mayors in South Jersey on two webinars for residents on health education topics, including “Coping with Stress during the Pandemic” and “Having and Maintaining a Healthy Heart.” If your organization is working in the community during this crisis, let us know so we can share examples of best practices and further your good work into more communities.
Given the uncertainties, anxieties, and calls for assistance that we heard about firsthand, now more than ever is the time for trusted members of the health care sector to reach out to local leaders and see how they can help. This fall and winter will hopefully bring more COVID testing, contract tracing, flu and possibly COVID vaccines, and re-openings.
We will need health care leaders to work closely with mayors to gain residents’ trust and cooperation. We need your organizations to work with us and the mayors to deliver factually based information at the community level. Reach out to your mayor or public health officer today or connect with us to get started.