By Jillian Risberg
“We kept the network together, community partners engaged, provided education and opportunities to strengthen our partner base, all virtually so that when it started calming down and public health came back to the table — we’ve got this under control,” says Executive Director Laura O’Reilly Stanzilis, RN.
Now they are at it again — ensuring their partners are strategically aligning efforts and resources to create healthier communities by hosting a virtual all-day (Oct 12) Symposium, Breaking Down Barriers and Building Bridges: Putting Equity at the Center of Community Health.
CEUs are being offered for dietitians, Community Health Education Specialists (CHES) and social workers. NJHC encourages New Jersey public health workers to attend this well-rounded event.
According to O’Reilly Stanzilis, learning outcomes will include: Reducing health disparities by addressing the social determinants of health; nutrition insecurity; improving access to care and services for individuals and families with the greatest needs; NJ 211 partnership; Rutgers Cancer Institute/Screen NJ on free and low-cost cancer screenings; destigmatizing mental health care; director of Morris County Human Services will present a case management approach to social and human services.
WHY: The pandemic brought to the forefront health inequities and further highlighted how societal factors influence health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”
Working in partnership with organizations and agencies that share a commitment to health equity is an important step in reducing barriers.
“Right now we’re in the process of developing the Community Health Improvement Action Plan,” says O’Reilly Stanzilis. “Actionable goals with collaborative agencies to integrate their work into our larger plan.”
More than 100 organizations across multiple sectors have signed on to partner with NJHC with a list of funding partners growing to over 20. Together they are working to create “healthy communities — healthy people” in Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.
O’Reilly Stanzilis passion for her field is evident, she is on the HNJ2030 Advisory Council representing this work. And the nurse says NJHC’s dedicated executive committee, board and county committee chair are all volunteers.
“If somebody comes to your organization with mental health needs and that’s what your organization does but you realize there’s food insecurity, housing insecurity, lack of access to healthcare; not just (community) social workers— and social services can make sure all the needs of the individual and family are addressed,” O’Reilly Stanzilis says.
COVID really put a spotlight on community needs; those with chronic disease, pre-existing conditions and obesity.
“You want to peel that onion and (determine) where the greatest prevalence of poorest outcomes were and what are the causes of those outcomes,” says the executive director. “Is it access to food, safe walking communities, education, primary care, transportation to get to primary care so a doctor can advise on diabetes self-management prevention, etc.”
She says it’s the biggest ball of wax in public health because there are diverse communities with different sets of needs and underlying social causes that have an impact on the greater health outcomes.
“And creating the best model to demonstrate collective impact of various entities and the community coming together in service of these larger goals,” she says.
Through NJHC’s work on the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) they engage with public health, local government agencies, nonprofits and businesses who provide resources, programs and services in the community.
They provide support to healthcare partners by linking clinical to community through their network of partner organizations.
NJHC is an independent 501(c)(3) organization with a diverse set of partners from health care, public health, social services, education, community-based organizations, local coalitions and residents. Their core function is a shared process of community health needs assessment and health improvement planning to identify the most pressing needs and facilitate the development of collaborative strategies to address them.
It is composed of more than 150 partner organizations; including public health, healthcare, social and human service agencies and other organizations and businesses.
The growing network demonstrates their collective impact by collaborating on action plans to improve health outcomes and promote health equity for communities in over 110 municipalities across the five counties served by the NJHC, and beyond.
“Our work is data informed so the needs assessments are based on the data we’re able to collect from the county health rankings, as well as social and nutrition needs, obesity and cancer rates, even car accidents,” says the nurse. “In certain counties we even realized — based on pedestrian fatalities — where they need to make more walkable communities.”
This is just a fragment, according to O’Reilly Stanzilis; and one intervention that could lead to the larger umbrella.
She says they cover a wide breadth of interventions, in cooperation with various community agencies, programs and services to address underlying causes, to improve health outcomes, on behalf of the work of public health.
To make this work the executive director says NJHC asked: does your organization, agency or business align with these four areas: Chronic Disease and Cancer, Mental Health and Substance Use, Healthy Aging and Maternal Child Health and your mission/goals?
“If it does, share it with us,” O’Reilly Stanzilis says they’re not taking credit for the work. “We’re combining their work with the work of all the other people in the community and demonstrating how that feeds into the larger improved outcome.”