Dr. Alisahah Cole, Vice President and System Medical Director of Community Health is determined five community-driven areas of focus based on information and conversations with community members, including Obesity, Mental Health, Tobacco, Access to Care and Food Access.

Women's Health, Men's Health, Family Health, Your Health | 3 years ago

The Community Is What Counts: An Inside Look at Community Health

Atrium Health determined five community-driven areas of focus based on information and conversations with community members, including Obesity, Mental Health, Tobacco, Access to Care and Food Access. Learn more about the ongoing work Atrium Health is coordinating to meet the needs of our community.

In honor of Community Health Improvement Week, Atrium Health wants to recognize Alisahah Cole, MD, vice president and system medical director of Community Health, for her commitment to the communities we serve and work to develop a formal Community Health strategy. Dr. Cole took some time to explain community health and how you can help.

Question: What is community health and how does it affect our community as a whole?

Answer: Community health focuses on the health and well-being of the communities we serve. We look at the health and well-being of our community across different segments, such as our healthcare system’s patients and the impact that we have on those coming through our doors and how we help support individuals to help them achieve and maintain good health.

We are intentional about how we help decisions that are being made out in the community, whether that is policy decisions, process decisions, or resource allocation decisions, not only among ourselves but also among others to help support health in the community. We’re really looking at it from a population health perspective, which is not only improving health of our patients but improving the foundations out in the community that can support, or sometimes place barriers, for people to achieve good health.

Q: What are the barriers our community currently faces that affect how they can achieve or maintain good health?

A: There are a multitude of different barriers one can face when trying to achieve or maintain good health, whether that is individual behaviors, or resources, or the zip code they live in. For us, we were intentional about making sure our community health priorities were community-driven which led us to uncover the five main priorities: Reducing pediatric and adult obesity; improving mental health prevention and treatment; reducing tobacco use; improving access to primary care, behavioral health and dental services; and focusing on social and economic needs, specifically food insecurity. 

Q: How are our partnerships with other organizations playing a role in improving our community’s health?

A: Community organizations are vital partners we work closely with to meet our five strategic priorities, including:

  • Addressing family care management and needs of an entire family by working closely with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
  • Offering free care from Atrium Health physicians for those with limited resources in partnership with Care Ring. In 2017, 449 primary and specialty providers served 2,172 patients and provided millions of dollars in donated care.
  • Providing nutritious foods to individuals and families in short-term food crisis through Loaves & Fishes referrals, hosting Mobile Food Pantries in collaboration with Second Harvest Food Bank, and supporting organizations such as Rosa Parks’ Farmers Market who accept food stamps in exchange for low-cost healthy foods.
  • Increasing access to care by placing primary care and rehabilitation services in the newly expanded Dowd YMCA this summer.
  • Improving access to coordinated health services and resources for those residing in Public Health Priority Areas by partnering with Novant Health and the Mecklenburg County Public Health Department to form ONE Charlotte Health Alliance.
  • Helping residents navigate resources, healthcare and financial needs by providing a Community Health nurse and supported life navigators on-site at Renaissance West.

Q: What programs has Atrium Health implemented to address the five key community health priorities and what success to-date can you share around these activations?

A: Since developing the formal community health strategy, we have made tremendous strides in addressing the health needs of our communities across the counties we serve, such as Lincoln, Union, Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Stanly, Anson, Cleveland and York, S.C., including:

  • Implementing the Healthy Together 5-2-1-0 program in elementary and middle schools across counties in North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as throughout Atrium Health pediatric healthcare sites. The Healthy Together program reinforces the importance of kids healthy eating and active living by promoting 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, fewer than 2 hours of recreational screen time, 1 hour or more of physical activity, and 0 sugary drinks each day.
  • Achieving the incredible milestone of training more than 10,000 people in Mental Health First Aid. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that helps educate our community on how to reach out and help those around us who may be struggling with suicide, mental illness or substance abuse.
  • Providing free tobacco cessation classes across our primary enterprise that have resulted in an 84% quit rate for those whom completed the class for the first quarter of 2018. Our numbers are trending higher than the national average due to the relationship and health coaching skills added to the sessions.
  • Rolling out the Community Resource Hub, a search, referral and application tool to help Charlotte community members locate free or reduced-cost social service programs in 2018. Atrium Health is initially partnering with 15 Charlotte-area organizations, including Loaves & Fishes and the YMCA, allowing partners and providers to refer users to facilities and programs that meet individualized needs through the Community Resource Hub. The complete referral rollout through Cerner is expected to be complete by January 2019.
  • Welcoming the new Atrium Health mobile health unit in Anson County in early 2018. The new mobile health unit is equipped for patient care with two exam rooms, a work space for patient navigation and data entry, scales, and a wheel chair lift. The Anson Mobile Unit has the capacity to perform blood pressure, glucose, weight, BMI measurements and provides referrals to appropriate resources at Atrium Health and other county health resources.

Q: What can our community do to help make an impact?

A: I encourage everyone to get informed; become educated and knowledgeable about what our community members are facing and get uncomfortable. Social determinants of health have more of an impact than the clinical care we deliver 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Often, people we work with or connect with daily are dealing with social determinants of health and we need to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. We can make a difference by getting active in our communities by volunteering and supporting local organizations. Ultimately, I hope people get inspired by the great work our organization is doing and motivates our community to get activated and engaged.