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February 9, 2021

Community Impacts

One of the most exciting health efforts SCHA supports is Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas (HPHC), a Duke Endowment-funded effort that takes a community coalition-based approach to improving health. The central idea is that health is not just driven by individual and clinical efforts, but through the cooperation and support of the larger community.

The HPHC model works to organize local coalitions who can make a collective impact and enhance a community’s capacity to implement evidence-based and informed interventions on issues like healthy eating and physical activity to reduce obesity and prevent chronic diseases.

SCHA recently spoke with Robyn Karoly, Community Health Manager at Tidelands Health, who runs the HPHC LiveWell Georgetown, about what their coalition is doing in the Georgetown community.

Tell us how you started on the HPHC work.

The first order of business was creating the structural foundation of the coalition. After assuming leadership of the program, my initial focus was on engaging membership, establishing a core team and developing bylaws. We also created membership profiles so additional organizations could officially join the coalition.

Next, we created workgroups to identify and address the specific health needs of our community. We also created EBI (evidence-based intervention) funding applications to establish a formal process to fund new or existing interventions to address identified health needs.

What were the initial workgroups? What did you choose to focus on?

The original focus, and what we are still focused on today, is access to healthy foods, physical activity and early learning. Those needs were identified through our community needs assessments, keeping in mind what our members were equipped to address.

What would say your successes have been thus far?

Our first success was establishing the foundation for the coalition – it’s critical to have active, engaged membership and a structure that drives your efforts forward.

With that in place, our focus transitioned to implementing the EBIs. Our first step was to host community forums, which helped us identify barriers to services and educate the community about our coalition and its purpose. For the forums, we targeted smaller, rural communities where we knew there few services to support access to healthy food or physical activity.

Of course, our work has been directly impacted by COVID-19 because we can’t convene groups of people in person. However, we have moved to a virtual platform, which has been a great success by allowing us to reach groups that hadn’t historically been able to attend our in-person meetings.

How else has COVID-19 impacted your work?

We were able to get some emergency response funding, which we redistributed as mini-grants to coalition members and workgroup members for produce and food distribution to those impacted by COVID-19. Our health system was also very active offering free COVID-19 testing throughout the summer, which gave the coalition a great venue to advertise locations where people could get pick up free produce and food in Georgetown County, advancing our healthy food initiative.

What are the coalition’s plans in 2021?

We want to establish a FoodShare (a fresh food box and culinary medicine cooking classes program) in Georgetown County. We’ve identified a coalition member agency that may be able to run the program, and we’re working on addressing space and staffing needs to help ensure it’s sustainable. Our hope is to create a hub for low-cost produce for the Georgetown community, which could make a long-term positive impact on health and wellness.

What would you say are the unique challenge that Georgetown represents in achieving your goals?

If you’re going to make progress, it’s important to make sure the right people are at the table. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily obvious who those people may be in every circumstance, but that’s where having established partnerships is helpful. By working together, you can help identify gatekeepers and the people who have the knowledge you need to push your efforts forward.

What else have you been working on that we haven’t talked about?

As we’ve funded more agencies in the community, we’re getting lots of useful data. Now we need to refine and streamline our collection processes so we can extract the most value from that data to support our health and wellness intervention efforts.

Another exciting initiative we are working on is the establishment of a Natural Learning Environment program in Georgetown County. It’s an evidence-based program that provides outdoor learning equipment to early childhood care centers.

The ultimate goal is to encourage creativity and imagination among young children as they benefit from hands-on learning in a natural environment. The program has been extremely successful in North Carolina and other parts of South Carolina, and we think it holds great promise for Georgetown County.