Blackford County is the third featured county highlighting the benefits of the Connections IN Health (CINH) community engagement project. After 36 community listening sessions in 2021 and 76 survey responses, community health challenges were identified that connected to the need for more robust services and education programs to serve the county’s residents.
Aggregated results compiled by Connections IN Health revealed the top three chronic disease challenges of nutrition, diabetes and cancer in Blackford County, with physical activity, cardiovascular disease and food insecurity following closely behind. Statewide data supports these concerns with Blackford County having notably higher cases of ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, breast cancer, and obesity.
“We chose Blackford County because it’s beside Grant County, and they share a lot of community health partners, including Taylor University who actively supports several community health initiatives,” said Karen Hinshaw, MS, Connections IN Health Associate Program Director. “Ultimately, we want to support existing coalitions that provide countless resources to the community and develop new initiatives that collectively work toward improving a wide range of health outcomes.”
Lindsey Cox, Purdue Extension community wellness coordinator serving Delaware and Blackford counties, said there has been renewed momentum and improved communication with local and state agencies since partnering with Connections IN Health and its statewide coalitions. Local government has also been very active with initiatives around physical and mental health, substance use disorders, and concerns with food security, broadband internet access, and environmental toxins.
“Connections IN Health and its coalitions have helped equip us with resources and information to move the needle in our community at a faster rate than we could have without them,” Cox said. “The Connections IN Health team has worked closely with our existing Healthy Community Alliance coalition for over a year now. We call the partnership ‘workgroup magic’ because so many creative ideas and detailed work come out of these meetings and partnerships.”
The joint efforts are paying off. Blackford County coalitions have received numerous grants, including $20,000 through the Cardiovascular and Diabetes Coalition of Indiana, a Connections IN Health initiative, to facilitate townhalls. These town hall forums led to the Passport to Health series that involved community volunteers, Purdue Extension, Invitation Clinic/Taylor University, and the County Health Department providing healthy food recipes and samples, cooking demos, and health screenings.
They also received $5,000 this spring through the Hoosier Health and Wellness Coalition, another Connections IN Health coalition, to implement the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces: Creating Healthy Communities workshop series. Just last month, the final action plan was completed that included initiatives to improve healthy eating and active living.
The county is taking active living seriously after an overwhelming survey response in support of a new community park. A 5-year plan is now being written to submit to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, making the county eligible for additional funding to complete the park, and a county parks board has been established to support the effort.
Erik Hayes, PhD, professor at Taylor University, leads the Invitation project that puts students in contact with residents who need support in making lifestyle changes such as nutrition education, cooking, getting physical activity, and making sure they get to medical appointments.
“Erik’s program provides services that give residents a continuity of care,” Hinshaw said. “The University opened its Invitation Center to help residents address chronic health issues, and he has opened many doors for funding opportunities because of his community relationships. He and Taylor University are invaluable partners.”
All these efforts will make a significant impact on the community health challenges initially identified in listening sessions and the survey, Hinshaw added. “We’re very proud of our successes in Blackford County.”
Community meetings to further develop the county’s public health plan will begin in the spring of 2023, with distribution of the plan expected in the fall.
Look for future stories on county engagement efforts in the coming months, with Washington County our next stop. Click here to learn more about how the county engagement project got started. Also read about Vermillion County and Grant County community efforts that were featured in early newsletters.