District Health Department #10 is building healthier communities in 10 Michigan counties

This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles about people delivering evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible thanks to funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Spanning 10 counties, District Health Department #10 (DHD#10) is Michigan’s largest health department by geographic service area and 10th largest by population served. Although the region encompasses areas known for their farms, orchards, forests, rivers and a variety of recreational assets, residents still suffer from food insecurity and have difficulty accessing places to be physically active. .

Working to address these issues by helping children, families, and seniors strengthen their health, DHD#10 uses a variety of evidence-based programs and approaches to create a broader culture of health through their policies, systems and environmental change (PES) work. And they are seeing encouraging results.
Signage promoting physical activity in Manistee County is the result of DHD#10’s SNAP-Ed work.
“As public health professionals, we can meaningfully engage with our communities and see our PHE projects from start to finish, from assessment to planning, implementation and follow-up evaluation. It really gives us a good circular view of what public health is here,” says Katie Miller, DHD#10 Community Health Supervisor. “We see the visibility of our work, see it start to come to life .”

Their work is made possible in part by funding from the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed). MFF is a state implementing agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP-Ed is a US Department of Agriculture educational program that teaches SNAP-eligible individuals how to live healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programs throughout the state of Michigan.

“Our SNAP-Ed PSE work allows us to engage and work in pockets of our community that aren’t otherwise reached,” says Miller. “For example, in Mason County’s Fourth Ward, there isn’t a lot of infrastructure. Many community members are passionate about making their neighborhoods walkable, safer, and healthier.”

To address these types of issues, as part of their SNAP-Ed work, DHD#10 used the Promoting Active Communities (PAC) online assessment, engaging residents to consider physical activity infrastructure needs in the community. . Residents provided an update on their neighborhood and shared their concerns about uneven sidewalks, crosswalks that needed better marking, and the need for improvements that would make walking and cycling easier. From this input, partnerships were created with stakeholders in the region to help DHD#10 advance its work. One of the first actions was to install temporary walking loops with new wayfinding signs in the community of Baldwin. The purpose of this signage was to define safe places to walk and encourage residents to get out and move more.

Through something seemingly as simple as putting up signs, they filled a gap and made an impact because they promoted accessible, close-to-home physical activity for residents who otherwise would have had difficulty being active.

They have also learned through their PAC work that each community has different needs.

In Mason County, a group of DHD#10 partners participated in the PAC assessment while others conducted the walk audits in the field. Their partners represented municipal government, health coalitions, community members and local public health professionals. Due to the positive experience of using the PAC in 2021, their partners are ready and eager to come on board to continue their collective work in 2022.

“We found it was about strengthening our relationships in Mason County. We had great partners who championed our projects,” said Kaitlyn Haner, DHD #10 Public Health Educator. “We are conscious of looking beyond our day-to-day work to see where partnerships and alliances might naturally fall with our PSE work.”

By using CAP to examine policies, programs, and the built environment in Mecosta County to help create more vibrant places, they were able to identify and address issues that surfaced in the community.

“At Mecosta, pedestrian safety issues were exposed,” says Miller. “We have been approved to have the crosswalks repainted this year based on information provided by the PAC Neighborhood Assessment.”

In Manistee County, Holly Joseph, DHD #10 Public Health Educator, enjoys leading by example as well as by profession. In the food space, she works as an MFF Farmers’ Market Food Navigator at Big Rapids Farmers’ Market and Manistee Farmers’ Market to help shoppers using food aid benefits understand how the farmers’ market works. farmers and how to plan and cook healthy, affordable meals using fresh produce. , locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Holly Joseph.
“I love sharing my passion for locally grown vegetables, how good they are for you, and all the wonderful ways they can be made,” says Joseph. “I’ve learned that if you show people a genuine love for healthy eating and share your own journey and challenges, people are more likely to open up to their healthy eating challenges and work to try. small changes.”

In addition to his diet-focused public health work, Joseph also works on physical activity initiatives with the DHD #10 SNAP-Ed team. Using PAC, they helped facilitate new signage in Manistee County’s Sands Park.
Signage promoting physical activity in Manistee County.
“Our PAC walking audits provided the basis for discussions that led the LiveWell Manistee Coalition to develop dynamic signage plans to encourage physical activity,” Joseph explains. “The community had a seat at the table to say what kind of signage they wanted to see at the park. It’s a huge space for people to play, with lots of people from the community using it in different ways. goal is to help orient everyone to the amenities available in the park.

This work illustrates how the use of CAP can act as a catalyst for communities to identify needs, find solutions, and empower residents to effect positive change in their community. The park improvements were completed in the fall of 2021. To assess the impact of the signage, DHD#10 is compiling data from community feedback collected via QR codes placed on the new signage.

“I can tell there’s been some positive feedback, so far, about people enjoying the park,” Joseph says. “I walk around the park often and the signage also helps brighten up the space.”

Joseph has advice for other organizations looking to make their communities healthier places to live.

“Make sure what you are doing exceeds your working time,” says Joseph. “Be active in your community. Get out, go to your farmer’s market.”

Farmer’s Market Food Navigators offer information on how to use fresh vegetables.
Miller adds that it’s important to “look for partnerships and opportunities for collaboration.”

“There will always be other efforts that are similar or aligned with yours when it comes to PE work, health and things like that,” she says. “It’s important to have partners and allies, and then build on those relationships, set goals, and work together to serve the greater good.”