Collaboration...Cooperation...Commitment…Community…Regional Health Alliance
In 1999, a group of people from across Calhoun County came together to make a positive difference in the health of area residents. They created the Regional Health Alliance, something special – and very unique at the time – that continues to have a significant impact today.
The Regional Health Alliance is a community partnership working to improve health and well-being in Calhoun County. It brings together more than 90 organizations and hundreds of volunteers who work in partnership to develop innovative solutions to Calhoun County’s top health-related priorities.
Cross-regional, cross-discipline partnerships of this nature are more commonplace today. But when the Regional Health Alliance was created in 1999, such an organization was largely unheard of. Since then, it has become a model for how communities across the country work together to address residents’ needs.
It all started in 1999, when the CEO of today’s Bronson Battle Creek Hospital – then Battle Creek Health System – resigned to take a new role. The hospital’s Board of Directors made a bold decision to involve the community in the selection process for a new CEO. And rather than limiting input to Battle Creek, they realized the importance of hearing from people across Calhoun County – in Albion, Homer, Marshall and the rural areas – all of whom relied on the hospital.
“We figured we would learn more by talking with each other than by talking about each other,” said Chuck Seifert, M.D. and chair of the hospital’s board at the time. “We knew things were changing, people were still competitive but they were beginning to think more regionally, so we took a chance to see what would happen.”
Sharon Hostetler from Albion was part of this early group and remains a Regional Health Alliance Leadership Cabinet member today. “Being part of this large group of people from across the county who were cooperating was absolutely wonderful! There was excitement in the air as people who usually competed with each other for resources were talking to each other about working together.”
In those early days, as many as 60 people often attended Regional Health Alliance meetings, which were held at the Calhoun County Intermediate School District offices in Marshall, a central meeting place for people from across Calhoun County. To this day, all facets of the community remain engaged, from schools to health and human service providers to healthcare leaders to community volunteers.
Following the selection of the new hospital CEO, the group realized it shared a vision and commitment to health improvement, recognized the value in continuing their active collaboration, and formalized itself as the Regional Health Alliance.
At approximately the same time, the Calhoun County Health Improvement Project (CCHIP), operated by the Battle Creek Community Foundation and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was concluding. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation approved the use of the remaining CCHIP funds to support the initiation of the Regional Health Alliance.
The first priorities identified by the newly-formed Regional Health Alliance were to focus on reducing infant mortality, improving the health of school-age children, and addressing health disparities among various segments of the Calhoun County population. Quickly, the group developed the School Nurse Initiative, placing school nurses in elementary schools in Albion, Homer and Battle Creek. Today, this program continues and is operated by the Calhoun County Public Health Department.
Similar to this early success focused on school-age children, the Regional Health Alliance also began collaborating with a wide variety of organizations across the county to reduce infant mortality via its Maternal and Infant Health Commission. And progress is being made. By 2012, infant mortality rates had decreased by almost 25 percent in Calhoun County from their highest level in 2007.
In the early and mid-2000s, the purpose and benefits of the Regional Health Alliance became more clear and its overseeing body – the Leadership Cabinet – crystalized its purpose. This included:
Making the community a better place to live,
Researching and prioritizing health issues,
Setting indicator targets,
Initiating projects to promote community health,
Benchmarking progress in achieving objectives,
Identifying and bringing community resources together, and
Collaborative health initiatives.
One of these collaborative health initiatives is the Community Dental Access Initiative. Recognizing that many people in Calhoun County don’t have dental insurance and access to dental care, the Regional Health Alliance partnered with others to create a program to provide free dental care to those in need. The program requires those receiving care to, in turn, perform community volunteer work at organizations like the Food Bank, homeless shelter, Red Cross and Salvation Army. Today, more than 40 dentists volunteer their time, providing free care to people who would otherwise go without. Since its inception, the program has provided care to more than 4,000 adults. It is now being replicated in numerous communities across the U.S. and is being shared as a best practice nationally by the American Dental Association.
“While there are many ways of improving the health of a community, this model may be one of the very best. It is transparent, solutions-oriented and collaborative,” said current Leadership Cabinet Chair Marcus Glass. “The Regional Health Alliance is a resource for bringing groups together. Every entity is represented.”
Further proof of the benefits of the collaborative relationships the Regional Health Alliance has built over the years came in 2010, when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed. The Act required hospitals to identify priority health issues in the communities they serve and strategies to address these issues. Rather than conduct three separate health needs assessments, Bronson Battle Creek, Oaklawn Hospital and the Southwest Regional Rehabilitation Center drew on their many years of Regional Health Alliance collaboration and jointly conducted a comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) with other partners including:
Battle Creek Community Foundation
Calhoun County Public Health Department
Community Healthcare Connections
Family Health Center of Battle Creek
Integrated Health Partners
Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP)
United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region
The resulting CHNA report has set the direction for today’s Regional Health Alliance. It identified Calhoun County’s top 10 health priorities, against which the Regional Health Alliance has structured its work and is collaborating with a wide variety of individuals and organizations. These priorities are:
- Obesity and overweight, including nutrition and physical activity
- Access to care
- Chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension
- Mental health
- Teen pregnancy
- Maternal and infant health and infant mortality
- Oral Health
- Sexually transmitted infections
“Armed with this essential information, and with a now-long history of working together, Calhoun County will benefit from the Regional Health Alliance’s proven ability to set goals, identify best practices and develop initiatives to advance the pace of health improvement in our communities,” said Leadership Cabinet member Mark Crawford.
What does the future hold for the Regional Health Alliance?
“The fact that it has sustained itself through so much change points to its significance,” said Battle Creek Community Foundation President & CEO Brenda Hunt. “The strong sense of ownership among all those involved proves that it is a long-term, viable approach to improving the health of Calhoun County and other communities.”