The best medicine — and the best way to build healthy communities — is not always a drug or diagnostic test.
What if doctors could write prescriptions for healthy cooking classes? Or send patients for long walks in local gardens? What if community leaders could help corner stores sell fresh fruits and vegetables?
No one sector can build a healthy community alone.
Through our Mayors Wellness Campaign, we work closely with community leaders to develop local health and wellness programming; through our QI Collaborative, we work closely with health care providers who are serving the most resource-challenged communities in the state. We started to realize that these leaders who served the same population and had the same goal of creating a healthier, happier community were rarely communicating — let alone collaborating — with one another.
On Friday, the Quality Institute launched its newest program, Healthy Communities Create Healthier Citizens, which is collaboration between our Mayors Wellness Campaign and our QI Collaborative to help align efforts of community leaders and health care providers in Trenton, Jersey City, and Cumberland County. The United Health Foundation is funding the program.
The program launch at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, a historic and beautiful church in Trenton, represented the diversity of stakeholders involved in this new project. Outside the cathedral we were in the company of religious leaders, civic leaders, nurses, insurance company leaders, hospital staff, representatives from community agencies all across the state, and constituents from Trenton’s West Ward.
After hearing from various leaders, attendees could walk through the church’s butterfly garden, receive health screenings, and partake in a free, healthy lunch.
The program will support community agencies, such as Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, that wish to make the most of their space and serve as a health resource for their community.
In Cumberland County, the grant will support an initiative to help local stores sell more fresh produce and display healthier foods at the front of the store. In Trenton, the grant will support health topic seminars at local food pantries and churches. In Jersey City, the grant will support health fairs, community gardens, and supermarket tours to help residents make smarter purchases. These are just some examples.
We also are investing in technology solutions that will help leaders from all sectors better communicate and collaborate to serve their communities. We decided on this aspect of the grant after several in-depth conversations with our partners in Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County.
We are in the process of creating a web-based source to make all the health and social service resources in a specific community easy to find. Residents, of course, will have access. But so will doctors, and nurses and our partner organizations. An emergency room physician may realize that a patient with repeated hypothermia during winter cold spells really needs a referral for housing. Or a doctor whose patient has pre-diabetes can write a prescription for nutritional education. The platform we are building will make it easy for them to find the resources their patients need.
These investments — and the entire program — are meant to serve the residents of Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland County in improving their health literacy and chronic disease management. But the program also is meant to serve the leaders in these communities who work tirelessly to improve health and quality of life for their residents and patients. When mayors and pastors and dieticians and nurses come together, the collective resources, expertise, and wisdom they bring to the table makes more effective community health improvement possible.
Doctors and hospitals cannot create healthy communities alone. Nor can health insurers or government. We are not islands. And none of us has all the answers. But bringing our collective resources and talents together will go along way toward creating Healthy Communities and thus Healthy Citizens. Please follow our three-year journey in Jersey City, Trenton, and Cumberland. We’ll distribute our tools and hope other communities will use them as well.