We continue our THRIVING for 10 Years series with a closer look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) program that started it all—Strategic Alliance for Health (SAH).
In 2008, Hamilton County was one of 14 sites around the country to receive SAH grant funds from the CDC. The program focused on building community capacity to establish policy, systems, and environmental changes that promote physical activity, healthy eating, and tobacco-free living. Hamilton County Public Health chose to focus on Lincoln Heights, Lockland, and Woodlawn – they became the first WeTHRIVE! communities.
Back then, Phyllis Nichols (pictured above) was the CDC project officer overseeing the four-year, $2 million SAH grant in Hamilton County. She says SAH was “a grassroots movement” that changed the way the CDC addressed chronic disease programs.
Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity share risk factors. “But traditionally, public health funding was siloed,” Phyllis said. “So, diabetes would get a pot of money, obesity would get a pot of money, heart disease would get a pot of money.” In addition, this siloed approach to public health “did not implement strategies that were sustainable … so these programs would be continually dependent on federal funds, and when they lost the federal funds then the program would end.”
SAH departed from this traditional model by cutting across chronic diseases and risk factors while also building a sustainable program foundation. “Hamilton County is certainly a star in that regard,” Phyllis said. “They did exactly what the program was intended to do.”
WeTHRIVE! has definitely not operated as a silo. “Hamilton County was very good about partnering with nonprofit groups and other local community organizations … so that when the federal funds did end, they had stakeholders in the community,” Phyllis said.
As WeTHRIVE! moves on through the next ten years, Phyllis has some words of wisdom:
- Always work from the policy, systems, and environmental change strategy perspective. “It’s the only way you’re going to get true change at the community level, and the state level, and the federal level.”
- “Continue to partner with the movers and shakers.”
- Maintain the WeTHRIVE! brand. “The branding was excellent, and not a lot of communities had that.”
- “Sustain what you have and grow what you can.”
“I think the most passionate public health workers are at the community level, so none of them should ever think they’re not big enough. Because the community level is where people live, and that’s where real change takes place. They really need to feel as important as if they were in Washington, DC. I think that’s missing.”
–Phyllis Nichols, MPH