Three Rivers District Health Department - Carroll, Gallatin, Owen, and Pendleton Counties - Kentucky
“Sometimes, when you don’t have a whole lot of resources, you find out your greatest strengths are people themselves. We need each other desperately.” – Melody Stafford, Three Rivers District Health Department
In rural northern Kentucky, the Three Rivers District Health Department knows that community participation is essential to bringing about meaningful change. This four county area, population 44,000, has been implementing the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) process to assess and address local community issues. Even in their framing of their local partnerships as related to “health and safety,” they were thinking of what would attract the most community member involvement.
Health Department staff invited concerned community citizens and people from numerous sectors of the community to be involved with their assessment and improvement efforts. More than sixty people attended the first meeting to kick off their process, and included judges, field representatives for congressmen, representation from the local faith communities, the hospitals, primary care center, board of health members, chiropractors, police, mayors, judges, the school superintendents, family resource representatives, youth service representatives, adult education, EMS workers and other concerned citizens. Although many area residents lack access to cable television or Internet connections, energetic and resourceful Health Department staff members were effectively able to engage people. They advertised in local newspapers, church bulletins, and through venues such as the county extension service, dentists’ offices, pharmacies, local businesses, hospice, the county sheriff, jailors, banks, and area technical colleges. Staff shared that their ability to allocate funds in their budget for food was also very helpful for convening people (they met over the lunch hour over catered sandwiches). At the first meeting, their sign-in sheet allowed people to indicate interest in joining the partnership on health and safety, and then staff followed up with those people (e.g., using postcards and phone calls). Health Department staff members have also gathered support and membership for the partnerships by going and making presentations to many local community groups, including the rotary club, chambers of commerce, the schools, and local faith groups.
Since that successful launch, the Coalition has strategically engaged members and collaborated with other existing local partnerships. The Coalition has worked within each County to identify top health concerns. They sent out local surveys asking county residents to identify the three most important things for a healthy county, the three top risky behaviors, and the top three health concerns. $100 gift cards served as incentives for participation and each of the four counties received responses ranging from 600 to 1,000 returned surveys. This community input identified unique priorities for each county, including reducing tobacco use, reducing obesity, decreasing motor vehicle fatalities, and increasing access to care, and has been essential to improvement planning efforts.
The health education staff of the Health Department facilitates the local health and safety partnerships in each of the four counties. This provides institutionalized support for ensuring the staff time needed to facilitate these important community-driven processes.