BUILDing Bridges To Better Health Through Partnerships

Dec 1, 2015, 3:30 PM, Posted by Amy Slonim

A new collaboration is helping communities forge partnerships that address the social determinants of health integral to the well-being of individuals and communities.

BUILD funding partners (from left to right): Chris Denby, The Advisory Board Company; Christopher Smith, Colorado Health Foundation; Chris Kabel, The Kresge Foundation; Amy Slonim, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Brian Castrucci, de Beaumont Foundation; Rachel Keller Eisman, The Advisory Board Company. [Photo credit: Chris Schneider for the Colorado Health Foundation]

“This is about communities owning the solutions to improving health ... this is where the rubber meets the road." That’s how my colleague Brian Castrucci, chief program and strategy officer at the de Beaumont Foundation, described the goals of the BUILD Health Challenge during the fifteenth annual Colorado Health Symposium. Brian and I shared the symposium stage with senior officers from the four foundations and one for-profit firm that, together with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), launched the BUILD Health Challenge earlier this year.

Why do communities need to BUILD bridges to improve health? For RWJF, the BUILD Health Challenge embodies the essence of our Foundation’s focus on bridging. As my colleague Paul Kuehnert notes, health care, public health and social services have traditionally operated in siloes. By breaking down these siloes and “bridging” health care with systems that are not traditionally thought of as health-related—such as education, housing and transportation—we can help people get the services they need, when they need them.

In June, BUILD Health announced awards to 18 groundbreaking projects that aim to improve health in low-income communities. Importantly, the partnering health system or systems for each implementation award have also committed a 1:1 match with financial and in-kind support to advance the partnership's goals. Such a new and unique arrangement empowers communities to continue fruitful programs well beyond the duration of BUILD Health’s grant.

In one Denver neighborhood, residents, experts and executives are teaming up to address inequities impacting children. Denver-based collaborative East5ide Unified is one of the 18 BUILD Health projects. It’s  designed to address the social, environmental and economic factors impacting health outcomes among some of Denver’s youngest residents.

Eastside Unified was created in response to data showing that children moving into many of Denver’s gentrifying neighborhoods had better health outcomes than those who already lived in the neighborhood before it was transformed. The children facing poorer outcomes were more socioeconomically, racially and ethnically diverse.

Jodi Hardin, Chief Strategy Officer, Civic Canopy [Photo credit: Chris Schneider for the Colorado Health Foundation]

"As we launched the collaborative, we made a conscious decision to, first and foremost, bring community members and residents to the table. Those of us that come at it from a programmatic or service delivery model came in service to the residents and community," Jodi Hardin, Chief Strategy Officer, Civic Canopy  

Fortunately, the response from the Denver community has been equally neighborhood-focused. While Eastside Unified brings together established organizations including The Civic Canopy, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, and Denver Public Health, it’s community leaders and neighborhood residents who are leading the charge.

“As we launched the collaborative, we made a conscious decision to, first and foremost, bring community members and residents to the table. Those of us that come at it from a programmatic or service delivery model came in service to the residents and community,” said Jodi Hardin, chief strategy officer of The Civic Canopy.

With BUILD Health’s support, Eastside Unified brought together a coalition of established organizations, community leaders and neighborhood residents to a retreat to address this challenge and others.   

At the retreat, discussions about childhood development inevitably turned to the many inequities and social determinants impacting community members’ health and well-being, including neighborhood safety and affordable, secure housing. Such a broad discussion put health outcomes in context and allowed all participants to learn about the many factors impacting health.

Over the course of the next year, Eastside Unified will continue to develop a plan to address childhood health inequities, with members of the community sitting at the head of the table. On deck are community listening sessions—including a youth panel to hear from children aged 4-7, visits to local public housing developments, and town-hall meetings designed to explore issues, share stories, and build an understanding of the many factors impacting health and how they can be addressed.

For those of us behind BUILD Health, these types of community-driven, collaborative projects are exactly why we are so excited for the future. Bringing together health care providers, public health, and community leaders and residents allows us to look for areas where hospitals’ capacity to invest in community health can be leveraged to not only fund promising projects, but bridge long-standing divides between sectors and unite communities efforts to improve population health. Through the BUILD Health Challenge, we are supporting bright spots across the country, so we can learn from and with them, and share these models to ignite similar change in other communities.

Learn more about the BUILD Health Challenge, improving health through innovative collaborations >>

Amy Slonim is a senior program officer at RWJF. Read her full bio here.