From promoting community gardens and installing better lighting in public parks, to working with local restaurants to offer healthier food options, an Arnot Health-led community collaboration is making a major impact on population health in Chemung County.
Chemung County received a “Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work, and Play” grant from the New York State Department of Health in 2010. The program is designed to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes. Arnot Health applied for the grant as the lead agency for the County, and won an award of $850,000, which was implemented over five years. With the support of more than thirty community groups and partner agencies, the program has demonstrated impressive, impactful results and has laid the groundwork for long-term sustainability.
“From a population health perspective, this program helps prevent chronic disease, and has tied in very well with Arnot Health’s overall vision of improving the health of the community,” says Rosemary Anthony, BSN,MSE,RN, Arnot Health’s Senior Director of Population Health. “It has also been instrumental in helping us to build a collaborative partnership with the local community. The future of medicine is geared toward getting outside the walls of the hospital and building a health infrastructure within the larger community. It is a real paradigm shift.”
Arnot Health has devoted significant resources to this program, including hiring Constance Scudder as its first-ever Creating Healthy Places Grant Facilitator.
According to Ms. Scudder, “We had a set of goals to achieve. Our work plan and budget were met by what we agreed upon with our community partners and according to the requirements of the grant. We are proud to have worked with over 30 community partners on this grant— from the non-profit, education, private industry, public health, political, transportation and local government sectors. What is unique about this partnership is its diversity and the focus on policy, systems, and environmental changes.”
The mission of Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work, and Play is based upon four prongs: improving local parks and playgrounds, enabling easier and safer access, creating community gardens, and working with restaurants to offer healthier eating choices.
The goal of easier and safer access to parks and recreation areas was tackled through such initiatives as: a new crosswalk on Lake Street in Elmira to provide greater accessibility to McKinnon Park, six new crosswalks and tactile ramps at Grove Park, and new universal playground signs for all nine parks that received improvements. Also, through collaboration with the City of Elmira, bike racks were installed on all City busses, allowing children and adults greater door-to-door access to healthy, active recreational options throughout the City.
Another success story has been the creation and support of community gardens throughout the County.
Community gardens were established using mini grants at Quatrano Park, the Town of Erin Community Garden, Woodlawn Community Garden (shared with Tanglewood Nature Center and Frontline Ministries), and the Near Westside Neighborhood Association. Additionally, a MEWU (Mobile, Edible Wall Unit) was purchased for Diven Elementary School but was moved to Hendy Elementary under the district reorganization plan. Two MUGS (Mobile Upright Gardens) were purchased for use at the Southside Community Center and another is currently in use at the Economic Opportunity Program of Chemung and Schuyler Counties.
Five “pizza gardens” were purchased with a grant from Pizza Hut through their “Raising Dough for Kids Program” for use at Head Start and at the Chemung County YWCA and YMCA. In addition, funding was provided to existing community gardens to refurbish them with additional amenities at the Equal Opportunity Program, Katy Leary Park, and at Pirozzolo Park.
The gardens have been immensely popular— the Southside Community Center garden can see up to four hundred students passing through each week. And whole neighborhoods have jumped in with enthusiasm. At the Quatrano Park community garden, which is overseen by ARC of Chemung, residents, ARC staff, and neighbors collaborated in the garden’s first year to donate 140 pounds of produce to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.
Arnot Health also worked with five local restaurants to encourage their patrons to choose healthier dining choices by using a salt substitute, offering salad dressings served on the side, providing doggie bags earlier in the meal to encourage portion control, and promoting non-sweetened beverages rather than sugary soft drinks. The local Elmira-area restaurant partners are Classic Café, Hill Top Inn, the Starlite Room, Turtle Leaf Café, and Charlie’s Café.
Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work, and Play has already made a statistical impact on population health in the local area. Chemung County, long mired near the bottom of the list of 62 counties in New York State in terms of overall health, rose one place to 59th in the most recent state rankings. Although factors like unemployment and poverty still plague the region, Chemung County showed a strong improvement in the area of “access to physical activity” from 2014 to 2015. There was a statistically significant improvement in this health indicator due to the work of the Creating Healthy Places initiative.
The program has received numerous awards and accolades, including the inaugural Age-Friendly Community Award in May 2015 from the Chemung County Department of Aging and Long-term Care. Creating Healthy Places has also garnered recognition as a best practice from the New York State Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, and Arnot Health’s efforts were named an Outstanding Community Outreach Program by the New York Association of Rural Health.
Although the Creating Healthy Places grant expires this year, the success of the program has spurred Arnot Health to apply for a new five-year grant application through the New York State Department of Health. The $1.25 million “Creating Healthy Schools and Communities” grant was submitted by The Student Support Services Center of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership as the lead agency with Arnot Health as a co-collaborator.
But perhaps the best reward is in seeing the direct impact that Creating Healthy Places is having on health in our community.
“I am very, very proud that it has really provided a successful example of what can be done when people work together through a shared mission,” says Rosemary Anthony. “We are one of the few hospitals that has a Population Health Department and dedicated staff to work on community health initiatives. This program has widened the vision of what can be done outside of a hospital, to help people make the right decisions and enjoy better health for the rest of their lives.”