RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize Q&A: Claude-Alix Jacob

May 13, 2013, 4:02 PM

file Claude-Alix Jacob, far right, as the Cambridge community is awarded the RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize

In February, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation honored six communities with the inaugural RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize, which recognizes outstanding community partnerships that are helping people live healthier lives.

Recently, NewPublicHealth spoke with Claude-Alix Jacob, chief public health officer at the Cambridge, Mass., department of health, one of the six prize-winning communities to be recognized by the Foundation. Mr. Jacob spoke to NPH about how collaborating around and winning the Prize has impacted the community, including resilience in the face of tragedy.

Apply for the RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize. Watch a video on the Prize and what it means for communities.

NewPublicHealth: What did winning the RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize mean to your community?

Claude Jacob: It has been great and exiting news for our community. Over the course of the last few months and through National Public Health Week last month we’ve had a chance to celebrate. We’ve been able to share our public health plans and community partnerships, but also under the aegis of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we now have more credibility for all of our efforts. The Foundation is associated with promoting important health improvement efforts nationwide and just to be linked to the Foundation will open doors, especially now that we’re one of the six inaugural prize winning communities.

During National Public Health Week we invited our community stakeholders to celebrate to thank them for their hard work in helping us to prepare for the site visit that was required of prize finalists. So it’s been a phenomenal few weeks.

NPH: How has winning the prize impacted the health improvements of your community?

Claude Jacob: The main opportunity so far is that we are preparing for voluntary national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board. We were required to have a site visit as part of the assessment for Roadmaps prize finalists and since accreditation also requires a site visit, we keep referring to that and will be able to use that experience to help prepare for the next one.

For the Roadmaps site visit, we were asked to identify fifteen stakeholders that we could have available for a three hour group interview. That experience was magical. We were able to talk about common effort because our community groups included the police, school and community members—stakeholders we have traditionally worked with.

As we prepare for accreditation, we’ve reminded community members who are involved with us how much they enjoyed the communal conversations during the Prize visit. That experience has engaged our stakeholders around the city.

NPH: What did you learn about your community during the application process for the RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize?

Claude Jacob: It was a pleasant surprise to realize how much interest there is here in collaborating, and we have learned not to take it for granted. It helped us see how much common ground we have throughout the city’s stakeholders. As we were digesting the experience, following the site visit, we realized that it’s a genuine involvement and interest. And we recognized in ourselves that we can be a convener in this space to demonstrate public health in action—to show the art of doing our work and to balance that with the science and the evidence. And we’ve learned from one another. It was a pretty intense few months and then we all waited with baited breath until we heard we’d be one of the winning communities.

For us it feels that we as a community crossed the finish line.  Which is why we have been celebrating and flying banners and flags and delighted to have our public officials acknowledge our prize.

NPH: What’s next on your agenda for improving health in Cambridge?

Claude Jacob: Accreditation. As I mentioned, it’s not required but something we’ve committed to do. And what will come out of it is the opportunity to study the data we have to collect in preparing for accreditation and use it to assess, and improve. And it allows us to have more intentional conversations with our stakeholders, such as public safety and schools. We’ll use it to talk about areas where we need to focus priorities both for the near term implementation plan that public health accreditation requires as well as for the broader strategic plan, also required, that we can bring stakeholders together to improve community health. The Roadmaps prize has been a catalyst to move that process along and to show the value of working as a community.

NPH: What reactions have you gotten to the winning the prize?

Claude Jacob: In addition to the excited community members and public officials, when I shared the news at executive committee meetings of other state public health officers, there was a round of applause, so there is a great sense of pride.

NPH: Have you stayed in touch with some of the other communities that won the Prize?

Claude Jacob: We’re hoping to have learning collaborative and get together in the next year, perhaps by having sessions together at national conferences to share what we have learned as prize winning communities. We are staying n touch and it’s been great to be connected and to have the common experience.

NPH: Since winning the prize, the resilience of your community has been tested by the bombing at the Boston Marathon, as well as the death of a young security officer on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, a manhunt and the lockdown of your city and neighboring communities for a full day. Did it help during that crisis that your community has been a collaborative one when it comes to helping the public?

Claude Jacob:  There’s no question. One of the characteristics we described in the Roadmaps prize application is that we are a diverse community ranging from people in public housing to those that live in million dollar homes and yet we have collaborated in all sectors.

There has been talk about how resilient we have been—and that stems from our strong sense of collaboration which has allowed us to weather this and other storms.

With the prize, we’ve been recognized as a community and we’re doing our part to share our characteristics so people can see how they can take our lessons learned and apply them in their own back yard.

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