Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Great expectations

The word on the street is ACHIEVE. It's a public health program that's making a real difference at the local level on a number of fronts, according to a Monday afternoon session of the same name.

ACHIEVE (Action Communities for Health, Innovation and Environmental Change) is a project of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and yesterday's session focused on how the program is working with a number of local health departments to create systems change through capacity building and policy development. The ACHIEVE approach centers on a process of community engagement and aligns with recent community transformation grants that were awarded via the Affordable Care Act.

As part of the program, NACCHO assessed what local health departments need to help improve the environments where people live, learn, work and play and identified competencies for local health department leaders. According to session speaker Kenneth Smith of NACCHO, “the key is fostering leaders who are able to engage the political system to make things happen.” And public health departments “need training to navigate political and bureaucratic environments,” he said.

In fact, ACHIEVE is having an impact just across the river in Alexandria, Va., where the health department has been making strides in childhood obesity prevention. Carrie Fesperman Redden, a health planner with the city's health department, led efforts to develop the Alexandria Childhood Obesity Action Network through its 2009 ACHIEVE grant from NACCHO. Following a process of community engagement, the city of Alexandria developed an action plan and found a groundswell of support for implementing it among a cross-section of organizations, agencies and community members involved in the process. In addition, the network has received attention from Alexandria’s council members and for the first time, health goals were included in the city’s 2010-2015 strategic plan. With help from the Alexandria health department in drafting language as well as the support and advocacy efforts of the obesity network, the Alexandria City Council also recently passed a complete streets resolution.

At the end of the day, we can say this program is successfully building healthier communities and ACHIEVE-ing great things.

— M.S.

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