GREENFIELD — Still very much in its infancy, the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) is looking at how it can coordinate the work of varied providers toward improving the health of residents in Franklin County and the North Quabbin.
“We can only really improve health when we care outside of our silos,” said Franklin Regional Council of Governments Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker, who leads the group. The CHIP is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps grant.
At its annual meeting, an array of organizations showed gradual steps that took place during the first year of implementing the CHIP’s four-year strategic plan.
“We’ve gotten a whole bunch of organizations to learn more about what it takes to get invested in health,” Walker said.
A main question batted around was whether CHIP has been effective. While opinions were mixed, there was a general consensus that it has helped push certain ideas to the top of the agenda.
“Working collaboratively has really saved time and resources, and now some of these groups are using this work as a part of their strategic plans,” said Sandy Sayers, the Franklin County United Way’s executive director, who is a member of the group.
In its first year of its strategic plan, CHIP had five main goals, all of which were presented by those who spearheaded the efforts. Walker noted that the group hadn’t necessarily planned to achieve the goals in one year, knowing very well some of them take longer to achieve. Rather, she said, these goals were meant to be the focus of the attention in that calendar year:
Glen Ohlund, director of Community Development at the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority, noted that while access to affordable and low-income housing continues to be a challenge in the region, there were some accomplishments this year.
Using community development grant funding, Ohlund said his organization can help people rehabilitate their homes or help to restore a home that is run down.
Funding for housing in Leverett, Conway, Sunderland and Deerfield continues into 2018, while plans to begin working on housing in Gill, Rowe and Bernardston are underway.
“You get out into the hinterland and you get to greater and greater challenges,” Ohlund said. “It’s a challenge ... yet we want to make sure all people in Franklin County have equal access to having their properties improved.”
Green spaces and parks
Walker also touched on continued efforts to improve green spaces and parks across the region. She pointed to the success Erving had in turning an old mill into a new park. She highlighted the park renovation in Lake Pleasant and the plans for a skate park in Greenfield.
Kat Allen of the Communities That Care Coalition, which is run by the council of governments, talked about the 2017 substance abuse data among local teens, emphasizing that CHIP helped her leverage her evidence-based LifeSkills program.
In a year where regional school districts continued to feel tightening budgets, sometimes leading to peripheral programs getting reduced or cut, Allen said she was able to keep pushing for LifeSkills in schools.
“It’s been very powerful to have the support of the CHIP group and the Opioid Task Force,” Allen said. “If the community had not been paying attention and supporting the program, I really think we would’ve had massive backsliding.”
She highlighted that local eighth-grader alcohol use is now below the national average, which was a big accomplishment after years of data reading above that rate.
One major goal of CHIP was to put the focus on dental care.
This effort was led by Edward Sayer, CEO of the Community Health Center of Franklin County, who pushed to implement fluoride varnish for children in the community as a way to help prevent tooth decay.
Sayer found that besides the Community Health Center and Valley Medical Group, no other practices in the area were implementing this technique. Although CHIP did not get anyone else on board, like Baystate Franklin’s family practice, it did help Sayer scope out the current scene and where to improve.
“The fact that this was a CHIP priority is what drove the investigation of who wasn’t doing it,” Sayer said.
Fair Share Amendment
Allen also led the group’s efforts in advocacy for what’s known as the “Fair Share Amendment,” which would potentially tax those making more than a million dollars. The revenue for this state income tax would then be used for transportation and public education. Advocates are pushing for it to be on the 2018 November ballot.
“I felt really excited and inspired that this is the first time any of our coalitions were taking on a statewide policy priority,” Allen said.
Paul Dunphy, state Rep. Stephen Kulik’s aide, said if there are less federal funds to pay for major items like health care, which takes up a large chunk of the state’s budget, then other items will get slashed, like education or transportation.
“If those funds dry up, we’ll be looking to state revenues to try to make up the loss,” Dunphy said. “It’s another reason why additional funds are needed.”
Although this was not one of the five main points of focus for CHIP this year, school nutrition was a major point of discussion at the annual meeting.
Rachel Stoler, community health program manager at the council of government’s Partnership for Youth, has been working on a school nutrition technical assistance grant, which she said “wouldn’t have happened without CHIP.”
With leveraging the regional program, she was able to acquire a $10,000 grant to hire a consultant to assess and provide recommendations on how to improve the food served at the public schools.
“It was something we would never have had staff time to do,” Stoler said.
You can reach Joshua Solomon at:
413-772-0261, ext. 264