Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for Public Health: Q&A with Acacia Salatti

Apr 15, 2013, 11:57 AM

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (known as the Partnership Center) engages with community organizations to:

  • Strengthen the role of community organizations in health initiatives
  • Reduce unintended pregnancies and support maternal and child health
  • Promote responsible fatherhood and healthy families
  • Foster interfaith dialogue and collaboration with leaders and scholars around the world, and at home

As part of HHS, the Partnership Center is a member agency of the National Prevention Council—a collaboration of 17 federal departments, agencies and offices to help promote prevention and wellness for individuals, families, and communities. The Council members are guided by the National Prevention Strategy, released two years ago by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, which envisions a prevention-oriented society where all sectors recognize the value of health for individuals, families, and society and work together to achieve better health for all Americans.

>>Read more in our series exploring the National Prevention Strategy, and how each and every sector impacts public health.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Acacia Salatti, acting director of the Partnership Center, about their prevention efforts in U.S. communities.

NewPublicHealth: What is the role of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships?

Acacia Salatti: Our office as is an open door for faith and community stakeholders. We see it as a two-way partnership—our center is able to provide information on health and human services programs, and we are able to gain a deeper understanding about what other types of best practices are happening in the community. We are one of 13 faith and neighborhood partnership offices in federal agencies and we all work to together to help faith and community stakeholders create a positive impact in their communities.

NPH: Why is prevention important to the office and how does the office align with the National Prevention Strategy?

Acacia Salatti: Without prevention how are we going to be able to create and sustain healthier communities? One critical issue that the Surgeon General highlights in the National Prevention Strategy is the need to convene diverse partners and we do that. One of our key strengths is our ability to bring together all different types of stakeholders to talk about public health and prevention. We have a Health System Learning Group, which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has supported, which evolved out of a series of stakeholder meetings hosted by the White House and our office. The goal is to create strategies that will focus on preventive care. So, for example, we’re working with health systems, community health centers, and with faith and community stakeholders to close care gaps and address coordination and lack of capacity.

NPH: What are some of the efforts you are taking in engaging communities to help individuals enroll in insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)?

Acacia Salatti: We have been hosting monthly ACA webinars in both English and Spanish. Over the course of two years we’ve done close to 80, which have helped community leaders understand new opportunities for coverage under changes such as new rules for behavioral health coverage and the Medicaid expansion. What is so critical is that people can’t take advantage of new services and benefits unless they know about them. So we continue to work with faith and community stakeholders so that we can get that information to local communities as easily as possible.

NPH: How can public health help leverage partnerships with faith-based communities?

Acacia Salatti: I think the ways are just really countless. Faith communities have been working in the public health arena for decades, which is so important for us to recognize. They have been hosting health clinics, partnering with their local health departments, initiating community gardens—all kinds of critical activities. I think for us it’s about helping them take those efforts to the next level. For example, we’re working on the on the Million Hearts initiative in trying to reduce cardiovascular disease. We’re providing community and faith leaders tool kits and other resources and connecting groups with other people on the ground. And then they take that information and reach into vulnerable and other hard to reach populations. They know their communities, they know what works, they know what doesn’t work, and so they do it in a variety of different ways—such as congregational bulletin insert or having someone from a local community health center speak to their community about the services available at the health center.

A great example is what they’ve been doing to help prevent seasonal flu. HHS and Walgreens have a public-private partnership and through that we’ve been able to provide community leaders with flu shot vouchers for community residents. That has been made even easier by Walgreens bringing mobile clinics into communities.

And last year we hosted a minority health summit together with the HHS Office of Minority Health and the National Association of City and County Health Officials during NACCHO’s annual meeting. We did that because we wanted to help provide local health departments with great ideas and partnerships and best practices taking place in other neighborhoods and faith-based communities. Health departments are under a lot of budget constraints, as we all are, and are just trying to figure out how to do their job effectively and so may not know what other groups are doing and where they may be able to partner. We’ve gotten a lot of really great feedback on the summit but to me the most amazing thing was looking at all the public health officials sitting right next to community and faith leaders talking about the issue of public health and innovative approaches and learning from each other. That’s my job—to see how we can bring people and strategies together for the public good.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.