Danvers’s Journey to Promote Health, Well-Being, and Equity
Five years into the Sentinel Communities Surveillance Project, Danvers’s capacity to address health and well-being needs of its residents is driven by local anchor institutions that provide critical funds and services to residents and organizations.
This work is bolstered by a network of hospitals and health systems in neighboring towns that augment local services. Danvers continues to take steps toward better health and well-being with an increase in efforts addressing basic needs around housing and homelessness, transportation, mental health, and substance use, and has experimented with novel ideas to foster social connections and encourage residents to spend more time outside. However, progress has been slow and sustainability is unclear. A long-standing focus on the social determinants of health has deepened in Danvers over the past five years, with additional stakeholders understanding the connection between factors like housing, transportation, education, and health. Despite this progress, Danvers still lacks a shared definition and vision for health in the region. Today, health equity is more broadly recognized, although actions and commitments to promote health equity vary by sector and organization. The region has also been challenged by a series of hate crimes, particularly within local schools.
Health Priorities and Narrative
The North Shore of Massachusetts has a strong culture of collaboration across many cities and towns, which allows Danvers to leverage additional support and resources on issues such as transportation, affordable housing, and behavioral health.
Well-established anchor institutions play a pivotal role in supporting community members’ health and well-being.
Efforts to address affordable housing over the past five years have included zoning policies and financial investments, although there remains some opposition to these efforts.
The four-mile shared-use Rail Trail and Complete Streets program promote exercise and connect individuals to restaurants and businesses, but there is no public transportation in the area.
Health Priorities and Narrative
Over the past five years the health narrative has broadened slightly, but stakeholders noted that the community is still working toward a shared definition and vision for health.
There is an increased focus on mental health, which is now viewed as an essential component of well-being. Stigma around help-seeking has been slowly declining.
Over the past five years, there has been a growing acknowledgement of health equity in the region, although such discussions tend to vary depending on the sector and the extent to which equity has been explicitly defined.
There is also a growing emphasis on data in the region, which is informing decision-making around equity.
Lessons Learned: Where is Danvers Five Years Later?
Over the past five years, Danvers has not experienced dramatic shifts in the way in which it is thinking about and addressing health and well-being, but there have been notable advances in some areas. Although the community still lacks a strong definition of and vision for health in the region, there is a growing recognition that factors like housing matter for health and that mental and behavioral health are important.
Danvers has benefited from strong collaboration in the region. Its unique form of governance helps to ensure resident ownership in town budget, zoning, bylaws, and other policy decisions. It also has a strong relationship with key anchor instructions. However, Danvers lacks a unified vision for health and much of the population lacks a strong understanding of health equity, drivers of health, or the factors facing marginalized populations in the region.
Danvers’ journey to promote health and well-being is one that illustrates the importance of collaboration, as collaboration across Essex County has been—and will likely continue to be—an important aspect of how Danvers continues to advance health and well-being. Progress on health and health equity has happened slowly, but measurably. There may be an opportunity to further advance conceptualizations of and investments in health by continuing to expand linkages between health and well-being with other community priorities related to transportation, housing, and addressing hate crimes in the schools. Other communities can learn from Danvers’ approaches—and the challenges they encountered—to inform their own journeys. And as COVID-19 recovery continues, with historic funding flowing to local communities, future research could consider the ways in which momentum around health, equity, and well-being influences community health narratives and decisions moving forward.
- Strong culture of collaboration
Governance structure that ensures community voice
- Increased reliance on availability and use of data for decision making
- Rail Trail that links downtown and residential areas
Lack of public transportation
Less movement in understanding of health and equity among residents
Ongoing challenge of housing instability and homelessness, with few short-term solutions.
Hateful incidents, particularly among youth.