Columbia, South Carolina
The Healthy South Carolina Campaign
In 2011, ReThink Health launched a campaign in Columbia, South Carolina, where leaders are coming together to transform health and health care in zip code 29203.
Why 29203? Why now?
South Carolina has significant health challenges: two-thirds of the population is overweight, one-third suffers from hypertension, eleven percent suffers from diabetes. In South Carolina, some populations are more affected than others with the prevalence of chronic disease even higher and access to care more limited. Zip code 29203 in Columbia is among the worst affected.
Forty-five thousand people live in 29203, and 15,000 of them are uninsured. Not surprisingly, the cost of care is staggering. The average resident visits the emergency room two times a year resulting in 30,000 uninsured ER visits from 29203 alone.
Local Efforts Lead the Way
In 29203, community members and regional leaders are working together to improve access to primary care, reduce emergency room admissions and improve the health of the population. Their effort promises not only to better manage the effects of chronic disease, but also to help prevent it.
This approach to change is founded on the premise that there is no single solution to improving care and individual health. The solution will not come from the medical delivery system alone, or the insurance system alone, or the community alone. To create change, leaders who have the conviction and skills to both engage the people around them and work across boundaries must assume responsibility.
To this end, ReThink Health launched the South Carolina Vision Team as part of its action-research project in January 2011. Recruiting members from the South Carolina Hospital Association, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Eau Claire Cooperative Health Center, Palmetto Health, and Tri-County Project Care, Organizing for Health recognized that the best chance for success was to work with those who have the interest, will and commitment for change. The Vision Team’s purpose was two-fold: (1) to imagine what the campaign could look like and (2) to identify and recruit a core leadership team to take responsibility for the campaign, further develop its strategy, and coordinate its implementation.
In July 2011, the Core Leadership Team came together and in its first month engaged 130 community members in one-to-one meetings and recruited over 90 leaders from 29203 to a town hall meeting to discuss the health problems facing their community and the solutions that they want to make possible – instead of seeing themselves as bystanders within a larger system.
The Core Leadership Team then recruited an additional 40 leaders from 29203 churches, schools and neighborhoods, community clinics, federally-qualified health centers, the City of Columbia, and the University of South Carolina, to join them in building a targeted and strategic campaign. Together they developed and decided on three possible campaign ideas and launched a house meeting campaign to vet these ideas within the community. They then engaged over 750 community members in 45 house meetings in six weeks, culminating in a Community Issues Assembly at which the community collectively decided the strategic focus for the campaign.
Through activities like leadership trainings, house meetings, community assemblies, one-to-one meetings, town meetings, strategy sessions, collective decision tracking and feedback with tools like NationalField, and more, the campaign is engaging 29203 with key partners in rethinking, shaping and redefining their health system.
With a goal to train over 200 local leaders by early 2012, these leaders will focus on fanning out across Columbia to help individuals and neighborhoods develop wellness programs and policies. There will also be a major emphasis on improving health literacy and communication skills. And every part of the community’s health care delivery system, including insurers, is pledging to engage in serious discussions about how to improve access to primary care, reduce reliance on emergency departments for non-urgent problems, and reduce costs.
The Healthy South Carolina campaign is rapidly gaining momentum in zip code 29203 and is expected to spread to additional communities in South Carolina and beyond. The ReThink Health action-research team is capturing lessons learned so that similar campaigns can be built in communities across the country.
For more information or to get involved, contact Terri Jowers, Lead Organizer in South Carolina, at firstname.lastname@example.org.