West Marion Community Forum awarded $100,000 grant

The West Marion Community Forum is receiving a $100,000 grant to improve health and address the inequities that led to health problems.

The West Marion forum is one of only six collaborations in North Carolina to each get a $100,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) Foundation.

With growing momentum behind the understanding that the majority of health, up to 80 percent by some estimates, is dictated by factors outside of the health care system, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation awarded $100,000 to support West Marion Community Forum Inc.’s focus “on social determinants to improve health and address the inequities that cause health disparities,” reads a news release.

In a prepared statement, the representatives of the West Marion forum state they are “driving systemic changes to reduce obesity in a rural Appalachian county by working with historically excluded residents in African-American, Latinx and white communities focusing on food access, physical activity, transportation, and youth engagement. We are partnering with Mission Hospital McDowell as our clinical component, this is a requirement for the grant.”

The forum has a core team that will be working on the strategy to complete this program. The members are Paula Swepson Avery, West Marion Community Forum; Mary Snow, Equitable Community Strategies; Ginger Webb, Community Engagement Project; Emily Roberts, McDowell Local Food Advisory Council; Carla Lopez, Centro Unido Latino-Americano; Deanna L. LaMotte, ACT Now! Diabetes & Awareness and Prevention; and Kimberly Freeman, Mission Hospital McDowell, according to the news release.

“This grant offers a critical opportunity to partner across our county to address health disparities and amplify the voices of the community to inspire positive shifts in how we live, learn, work, play, and pray together #shifthappens,” said Paula Swepson Avery, executive director of the West Marion Community Forum.

This grant expands Community-Centered Health, the Foundation’s approach to supporting clinical-community collaborations to better understand and act on non-medical drivers of health, with the ultimate goal of increasing health equity and improving health at the population level, according to the news release.

“Where we live; how safe or stressful our environments are; our access to quality education, healthy foods, transportation, community resources and more all affect our health,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, president and CEO of Blue Cross NC and chairman of the Blue Cross NC Foundation. “This investment is designed to support communities to identify the factors that are impeding all people from achieving good health and to work in partnership to address those causes at a systemic and policy level to improve the health of their communities.”

The work of the West Marion Community Forum is rooted in the core tenets of the community-centered health approach:

• Developing multi-sector, clinical-community partnerships in which community members experiencing the conditions that cause inequities have leadership roles

• Making policy, systems, and environmental changes that will sustain impact and lead to increased health equity in the community

• Shifting health care’s processes and culture to identify and act on non-medical barriers to good health at the population level

“For far too long, interventions have been prescribed by those living outside a community or those who haven’t experienced health inequities directly,” said Conway. “This approach counters that instinct by engaging the wisdom and leadership of those who experience inequities directly to identify and prioritize changes necessary to transform health.”

Community-Centered Health is a long-term approach and this grant supports an initial partnership development and planning process. CommonHealth ACTION, a national leader in health equity, is the Foundation’s technical assistance partner. They will coach partnerships during the planning process and provide tailored support to maintain a focus on equity and systemic changes inside and outside the health care system that drive chronic disease and health inequities, according to the news release.

“Health is a production of society,” said Natalie S. Burke, president and CEO of CommonHealth ACTION. “If we’re going to create communities where everyone is able to achieve their best possible health, then we need to redesign systems that are currently producing health, well-being, and quality of life for some while producing illness, disease, and early death for others.”

At the conclusion of the initial 15-month planning period, West Marion Community Forum will be eligible for up to four years of implementation funding from the Blue Cross NC Foundation to put their plans into action.

The West Marion forum is a place where community members come together to strengthen families and community through unifying others, sharing knowledge, and building healthy relationships. “Our vision is for a healthy and equitable West Marion,” reads a prepared statement. “A place where residents are engaged to become leaders to create change through new businesses, empowered youth, affordable housing, teaching gardens, and a community center that honors our ancestors and creates opportunities for our future.”

The other newly funded community-centered health partnerships are:

• Caswell Chapter of the Health Collaborative (Caswell County): addressing the impact of economic instability on chronic diseases including overweight/obesity and heart disease.

• Hunger and Health Coalition (Watauga County): expanding and strengthening efforts to reduce obesity and diet-related chronic diseases in low-wealth populations with a focus on food insecurity.

• Montgomery County Partnership for Children (Montgomery County): combating obesity by reducing food inequity and increasing economic stability.

• North Carolina Community Health Center Association (Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Durham, Guilford, Harnett, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Orange, Person, Randolph, and Rockingham counties): addressing inequities driven by occupational hazards, poor housing, language access, lack of transportation, and health care access in the farmworker and poultry processing worker populations.

• Opportunities Industrialization Center (Edgecombe and Nash counties): supporting residents to implement systems-focused solutions for marginalized communities to reduce stressors in their physical and social environments that have contributed to a high prevalence of chronic disease and depression.

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