I’ve written a good bit on rural community health, social determinants of health, how health and individual and community prosperity are linked and how our ARCH community health coalition is designed to help deal with those health issues.
The ARCH coalition exists to bring together organizations in the community to work collectively to help individuals and families deal with the full spectrum of issues impacting their health, most particularly the underlying root causes of their poor health. It is a good idea and it has been shown to be effective in many places just like Hopkins County, and in places that don’t have as good resources as we do. It will work. However, the work that the ARCH coalition was originally conceived of to do is only part of the answer.
The ARCH coalition is a “boots on the ground” organization, organized to work directly with people to identify and address their fundamental health issues. In military terms, it is a tactical unit, meant to be out on the front lines of rural community health, working with people to achieve better health. The coalition will make a big difference in people’s lives and will help change the culture of health in our communities. But, just like in a military campaign, there is also a requirement for a strategic plan.
In World War II, General Eisenhower was the overall commander of all allied forces in Europe. His headquarters staff was in charge of assessing enemy strengths and weaknesses and developing plans using all available allied resources to counter them and win the war. One example of this that most people are familiar with is the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944. Operation Overlord, as the actual plan was called, didn’t just happen. It was the result of years of planning and strategy. It took information gathering, organizing forces, political activity, assembling the people, equipment and supplies necessary to launch the attack and coordinating it all. The D-Day invasion worked, not because everything went according to plan during the attack, because it most certainly did not. D-Day worked because the overall plan was sound, everyone participating in the operation knew what they were trying to accomplish and what their roles were in the big picture and they had the resources they needed to get it done.
There needs to be another part to our plan to fully realize our goal of building a better, healthier, more prosperous future in Hopkins County. We need an overall strategic organization to assess resources, determine needs, define a unified vision of what we are trying to do and develop plans, both for the short-term and for the long-term as to how we can go about making that vision a reality. Here’s how:
- Get the idea out to the people of the community, community organizations, government leaders and community leaders. Everyone needs to understand what we are trying to do and the role they would play. We have to buy into this and commit to this as a community. All segments of the community have to be part of the process, not just the people in leadership positions. This can’t be a top-down process. We especially have to engage the younger folks—students and young professionals because they are the long-term participants.
- Gather information. We need to assess where things stand now, in terms of our current health and wellbeing. We need to gather data and meet with the various groups within the community and find out what is needed from their perspectives and what their priorities are. Data gathering and analysis has to be an ongoing part of this initiative so that we know what we need to do and what impact we are having. Our current Community Health Needs Assessment was produced by the ARCH coalition as a collaborative effort, and it will be a good starting point, but it is only a starting point. We need much more information and input.
- Determine exactly what resources we have available in the community. Who are the stakeholders? What are their current missions? What are their priorities? What are their needs? How can they work collaboratively with other resources in their sectors (housing, nutrition, education, health care, etc.). How can this initiative help them to accomplish more in the community?
- Develop a unified vision for where we want the county to be in 5, 10, 20 and 30 years. Develop an overall strategic plan for how we, as a community, can achieve that vision. Right now, most large organizations have strategic plans of their own, based on their own missions, their own resources and their own priorities. My point is that each of those organizations is actually part of a larger community and that our interests, activities and goals overlap. Of course, these stakeholders will maintain their own plans because they have their own mandates and responsibilities, but we also need to sit down together and come up with a unified vision and strategy for the county as a whole, because we can achieve much more together than separately.
- Implement the strategy. Measure progress. Adjust priorities and processes as needed to achieve goals and continue progress.
This is just a brief outline of the proposal for the strategic organization. There are, of course, more details. The ARCH coalition and our community partners will continue to work directly with our people and families to advance the shared vision we have for our future. When the cities, county, schools, health care providers, civic organizations, charitable organizations, social services organizations, and citizens decide we want a better future and to work together to make it happen, there is no limit to where we can go. Change starts with you, and it starts when you decide to do it.