State grant program aims to promote health in rural areas

  • Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey holds a town hall discussion for about 100 people at the Northampton Elks Lodge on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018.

For the Gazette
Published: 1/10/2019 12:03:22 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A new program will provide nearly $3 million to organizations focused on improving the health of individuals, families and communities by addressing issues such as nutrition, safe housing, violence prevention, and substance abuse, Attorney General Maura Healey announced Tuesday.

The Collaborative for Educational Services, working together with 10 other partner organizations, including the Hilltown Community Health Center, Hilltown Community Development Corp. and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, will receive $149,818 annually for two years through the “Social Determinants Partnership Program.”

That funding will help the partnership address inequities in the food system, specifically in the Hilltowns, by designing and implementing a distribution system that connects underserved community members to healthy, affordable produce.

“We are trying to address a long-standing issue around transportation and food distribution in the Hilltowns,” said Sarah Bankert, program manager of Healthy Hampshire at the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton.

Bankert said residents in the hilltowns who are low-income, elderly or disabled often have limited or no access to fresh, healthy foods.

She noted that while things like farmers markets work in more urban and suburban areas, they may not be as useful in areas that lack larger populations with easy access to transportation.

“We are trying to work on this at the systems level and that requires having different partners working together,” Bankert said.

Kim Savery, director of community programs and family support at the Hilltown Community Health Centers, said being able to connect patients to community services is an important piece of the design.

“For example, someone that is pre-diabetic will have clinical assistance and could also be connected to a mobile market project or food bank,” she said.

As well as access to healthy foods, a second component to the strategy will address access to physical activity by promoting walk-friendly communities through the creation of pedestrian walking maps.

The maps will identify various accessible routes that may be used for a simple walk or to connect one destination to another.

“They will be easy to read, in large text and easy to use for elders or people with mobility challenges,” Bankert said.

It is hoped that the work of the partnership will strengthen community and clinical connections by implementing a two-way referral and tracking mechanism at the Hilltown Community Health Center that will link patients to community-based programs on disease prevention.

The goal will be to reduce the rates of chronic disease and address health disparities among underserved adults in the Hilltowns.

The towns that will be served by the partnership include Blandford, Chester, Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery, Plainfield, Russell, Williamsburg and Worthington.

In Franklin County the Community Action Pioneer Valley in partnership with Community Health Center of Franklin County and the Center for Human Development also received a $250,000 grant to offer mental health support to improve the health of high-risk adolescents and young adults in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

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