Connecting Public Health and Community Development

    • April 20, 2011

Access to affordable, high quality healthcare is essential. But, U.S. public health and health policy leaders understand that improving America’s health requires looking “upstream” at the many factors that limit people’s ability to choose healthy behaviors. And they know that addressing these factors—including access to healthy food and places to safely exercise, and the availability of quality, affordable health care—will require reaching out to new partners and considering new approaches that hold promise for improving community health.

Among the new partners in this effort are leaders in community development—the professionals who design and manage the housing, commercial spaces, schools, nonprofit organizations, and green spaces where we live, work, learn and play. These community development groups are working in close collaboration with public health leaders toward a common goal: to build communities where “the healthy choice is the easy choice.”

Momentum toward this goal is growing, with community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and their “impact investors” supplying capital and development expertise to improve community and environmental conditions and public health leaders offering tools like Health Impact Assessments to assess the health consequences of specific policies and projects.

The collaborations are just beginning in many communities, however, often because there’s little guidance on where to begin.

The Connecting Public Health and Community Development Project is an exciting first step toward addressing these challenges. The project will follow four sites—King County, Washington, Alameda and Los Angeles Counties in California, and Clark County, Nevada—as they work to improve community health. Each site brings a unique approach, including financing fresh food markets in “food deserts;” bringing comprehensive health services to community schools; spurring the growth of small businesses that employ local immigrants and youth; and creating a sustainable network of local nonprofit organizations focused on improving health and educational outcomes for young children.

Project facilitator GPS Capital Partners (GPS) will prepare a series of guides to share lessons learned from the efforts in the four communities. In addition, the work in each community will be explored through the Take Action: Work Together framework developed by the County Health Rankings team, which provides a blueprint for building healthy communities and developing strategies that can achieve sustainability and scale.

The Connecting Public Health and Community Development Project builds on a partnership between Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and GPS that is demonstrating how community development, finance and public health sectors can collaborate to improve the health of all Americans. Beginning with a 2010 journal and conference on this topic, the partnership is now holding regional conferences at Federal Reserve Banks around the country to spark dialogues on collaboration at the local level. A national conference in Fall 2011 will present case studies and practical guidance, marking progress in the field from idea to action.