Quality housing, safe neighborhoods and access to quality education are among the factors that affect residents' health outcomes within a community.
A new program in Ohio is focused on raising the voices of people in communities consistently experiencing health disparities.
The Ohio Department of Health is awarding $6.8 million to fund projects in Health Improvement Zones, which are neighborhoods facing the greatest risk of poor health outcomes.
Jamie Carmichael, chief health opportunity adviser for the department, pointed out many Ohioans see poorer health outcomes and live shorter lives because of the community conditions where they live.
"Things like access to quality education; quality housing," Carmichael outlined. "Is there lead paint in your house? Are you safe in your home, are you safe in your community? Are you experiencing toxic stress? All of those things can drive chronic disease or negative health outcomes."
About 20% of Ohioans live in a Health Improvement Zone. Some 26 organizations are getting funding to create or expand initiatives to improve community conditions beyond health care access and health education.
Carmichael explained public-health dollars typically focus on addressing gaps in quality health care and health education. The project targets the socioeconomic and demographic barriers to health. And she noted there is no one-size-fits-all approach, as the challenges differ between communities.
"If the community tells us, 'Hey our biggest barrier to health is community violence,' I don't want a walking club where no one feels safe to walk. I want to invest in community violence interruption strategies," Carmichael suggested. "These grants are putting the community in the driver's seat, sharing the power."
The projects will vary, she added. For example, Perry County's Health Department is partnering with the Chamber of Commerce, the local transportation authority, churches, a theater and other community partners who are bringing matching funds. And in Cuyahoga County, she added, residents are being trained on how to become Community Health Educators.
"Talking to people on their porches, going into beauty salons and barber shops, and having those critical conversations," Carmichael stressed. "Like, 'Did you know, infant mortality, one-in-five babies in our neighborhood dies before the age of one?' Giving them that information and then, listening to them and collecting their feedback and thoughts on what to do about it."
The funding is from a federal grant. Carmichael stated a private evaluator will oversee progress to help determine if funding should be expanded in the future.