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Forum updates on community health initiatives

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 by Vicky Garza

City and county health officials and health services organizations provided an update last Wednesday night on a five-year comprehensive community health planning initiative that will end in June.

About 86 residents attended the community forum at the George Washington Carver Museum to learn about the Community Health Assessment/Community Health Improvement Plan, or CHA/CHIP, which outlines community health issues, how they will be addressed and how to measure progress.

Since the initiative’s inception in August 2011, organizations involved with CHA/CHIP have made improvements in the plan’s four priority areas of obesity, food access, transportation and health care system navigation.

Some of the successes outlined at the event include a Healthy Corner Store pilot program, which improves access to healthy food by placing affordable produce in convenience stores, and a Smart Trips Austin initiative. Funded by a 15-month, $100,000 grant from the American Planning Association, Smart Trips provides households in North Austin with a personalized set of transportation resources as well as encouragement and education programs focused on active transportation options such as riding the bus, walking and bicycling.

Additionally, a mobile crisis outreach team has been established to respond, alongside the Austin Police Department and Emergency Medical Services, to behavioral health-related calls. The effort has had an 80 to 90 percent diversion rate, meaning that the majority of individuals are able to get help that allows them to stay at home and out of jail or the hospital.

According to Cassandra DeLeon, program manager at Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, the CHA/CHIP process was initiated by the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department with the help of a $35,000 grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The project is considered a Demonstration Site for Community Health Improvement Planning and Accreditation Preparation.

The initiative was also supported through funding from a steering committee including the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, Travis County Health and Human Services and Veterans Services, Central Health, St. David’s Foundation and Seton Healthcare Family.

Ongoing annual support includes $25,000 from Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Social Services Planning, $35,000 from Travis County Health and Human Services and Veterans Services, and in-kind staff support from steering committee agencies, partners and community members.

The CHA/CHIP is a multistage plan that started with a Community Health Assessment to inform the development of the Community Health Improvement Plan, which was drafted with community partner input.

The plan is still in the CHIP implementation and monitoring phase, which will end in June 2016, at which point it will be evaluated to see how it can be improved before the second iteration begins in 2017.

At the event, attendees had the opportunity to listen to 15-minute presentations from community health partners to learn about other community-health efforts, including an update on a community health needs assessment for Travis County being conducted by Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, Central Health, Seton Healthcare Family and St. David’s Foundation. The assessment’s findings, which will be published in April, will be used to identify and prioritize health needs so that these organizations can better serve patients and communities.

Attendees also learned about the new portal, which features information on pressing health issues, provides local resources available to the public and has a data repository for health professionals and others interested in creating policy solutions. Megan Cermak, senior healthcare planner of health promotion at Central Health, said that the data on the site will feed into a new Central Health initiative, the Central Health Equity Policy Council.

At the end of the event, a survey was distributed to participants, which DeLeon said will be used “to inform the CHA/CHIP steering committee, core coordinating committee and action leads on the public response to the implementation of our efforts.”

More information about the CHIP is available on the city’s community health planning website.

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