California’s Community Health Initiative Website Ready for Launch

California health officials will unveil a new website next week that tracks progress on key health indicators statewide.

The website will feature a dashboard showing community progress in 39 health care areas. It’s part of a broader initiative to improve the health of communities in California created by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in a 2012 executive order.

State officials said the new site is one example of how California communities are seeking to improve the health of residents by creating unconventional partnerships and making data tracking more transparent.

The 2012 initiative, called Let’s Get Healthy California, aims to make California the healthiest state in the nation by 2022, as measured in six goal areas. A task force in late 2012 issued a report outlining the status of Californians’ health and set goals for 2022 over 39 metrics. The initiative is based on the “Triple Aim” of better health, better care and lower costs while also promoting health equity.

Since that initial report, California health officials have been tracking progress internally and releasing data every January, but have not made that information available on an ongoing basis to the public.

Innovators To Be Honored at Website Launch

On Jan. 26, the California Health and Human Services Agencywill host an annual conference of Let’s Get Healthy California at a daylong event in Sacramento, and will launch the website.

The agency also will honor at the event 23 community-based “innovators” working toward population health improvement in areas that are the focus of the Let’s Get Healthy initiative. The 23 groups were selected as finalists out of more than 100 entries from across the state. The honor comes with no funding, but finalists will be featured on the new website with the goal of spurring replication and expansion of their projects and ideas.

The website will include a dashboard displaying the 39 indicators, such as 30-day hospital readmissions and adolescent tobacco use. The 39 indicators fall under the umbrella of the state’s six goal areas:

  • Healthy beginnings;
  • Living well;
  • End of life;
  • Health system redesign;
  • Creating healthy communities; and
  • Lowering care costs.

Each of the 39 indicators will have its own page on the website tracking progress and highlighting community efforts to move the numbers in a positive direction, officials said. The site will be interactive with charts and graphs, with data coming from local and statewide sources, including hospitals and community health organizations.

“We want this data to be accessible to communities and individuals,” said Susan Fanelli, assistant director of the California Department of Public Health. “We want to look at where there are disparities and where we can make the biggest changes.”

The website also will “curate” a dialogue among those working on the key indicators to forge cross-community alliances, state officials said.

Program Offers ‘Framework’ for Reform, Improvement

“Let’s Get Healthy California isn’t just about what the state is doing,” Fanelli said. “It’s a framework or platform by which we can bring people together and use data in a better way to identify areas of improvement.”

One example is the Food Literacy Center in Sacramento, one of the innovators to be honored by the state next week. The Food Literacy Center is working towards one of the state’s health goals — “healthy beginnings” — by educating children about how to prepare and cook with healthy seasonal fruit and vegetables.

The center is the brainchild of Amber Stott, who a few years ago noticed that while local food banks had expanded availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, many recipients didn’t know how to prepare and cook the produce.

“We can’t improve food access to families if they don’t know how to cook fresh fruits and vegetables,” Stott said.

So in 2011, Stott opened the Food Literacy Center. Today, the center’s classes are offered at 800 schools across eight school districts in the Sacramento area, reaching a total of about 200,000 children per year. Kids participate once per week in a 13-week session where they learn how to prep produce and create simple and tasty recipes.

“We show the kids, ‘Here’s what you can do with a head of cabbage and a bag of carrots and its super delicious,'” Stott said.

The center is often the first introduction children and their families have to less known but affordable seasonal produce, such as cactus or persimmons, Stott said. Children’s knowledge of fresh foods increases by an overall 80% between the start and end of the session, according to completed pre- and post-class surveys.

The center only has a staff of five and an annual budget of $300,000. To reach so many children through its programs, it trains volunteer “food geniuses” in an annual food academy who then go on to teach the after school classes. So far, the center has graduated about 60 food geniuses in the academy.

Stott said she hopes the center will eventually operate in schools statewide. The center recently received a prestigious grant from the USDA that will allow it and local farms and schools to align their curriculum so that children can receive a cohesive farm-to-table educational experience.

State health officials said the Food Literacy Center and other innovation challenge winners show that there are creative ways to make California the healthiest state.

Lack of Funding Creates Challenge

The 2012 executive order came with no new funding to meet the 2022 goals. That has made meeting these goals set more challenging, some say.

“The task force was an effort to put community health improvement in one place and at least set some goals,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, who sat on the task force’s advisory committee. “The good news is they did that. The bad news is that it is not resourced.”

However, Wright pointed out, much of this work is community-specific.

Take San Diego County’s efforts to improve community health, called Live Well San Diego, which started in 2008. Today, San Diego County has 165 community partners operating in a shared framework, with milestones and concrete goals to improve the health of the 3.2 million people living in San Diego.

Nick Macchione, director of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency, said it has become “a social movement. It’s no longer an initiative, it’s part of our fabric, our strategic plan, our community.”

Live Well San Diego uses five “areas of influence” and 10 indicators to track the health of its communities. The five areas of influence are health, knowledge, standard of living, community and social involvement. The county recently launched an open performance dashboard and data access portal that tracks progress in the 10 indicators.

The county has succeeded in moving the needle on childhood obesity in the most critical school districts. It also has improved screening for heart disease in community-wide efforts, among many other accomplishments.

Macchione said San Diego has improved on all but two of the 10 indicators: income and the built environment. Stagnant wages are making it difficult to raise overall living standards. And the built environment has some way to go to improve housing, parks, bike paths and creating more pedestrian-friendly and green corridors. These are issues that the county and community partners are working to improve, he said.

Some successes have come from creating links to health around issues that might not be obvious, like voter registration. “It’s known that people who are registered voters are more invested in their communities,” Macchione said.

He said while Let’s Get Healthy California is a “great plan” what San Diego is doing is “far more expansive.” It is also being replicated in communities in other U.S. states. And this year, six states in Mexico are joining San Diego’s heart disease screening challenge on Valentine’s Day.

Some of these accomplishments, like improving childhood obesity or breastfeeding rates, won’t pay off for many years, when children on the receiving end of these interventions grow up to become healthier adults, Macchione said.

“That’s part of the difficulty with our nation’s focus on instant gratification,” Macchione said. “But we are staying the course on this vision toward wellness.”

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