On Thursday Aug 1, 2019 the Arizona Rural Health Association recognized SEAHEC’s Healthy Farms Program for our work with the Winchester Heights community. SEAHEC Executive Director Gail Emrick accepted the award at the Arizona Rural Health Conference in Flagstaff.
The Inspiring Rural Health Program award “recognizes a program within a community, at the local or state level, that involves one or more health professionals or entities, and promotes or facilitates the development of rural health delivery systems.”
Our strategy for rural health delivery is unique and scalable. It leverages public health issues to develop infrastructure needed to jump-start economic development in rural communities.
Our approach differs significantly from previous attempts at development in Winchester Heights, which depended on one or two charismatic people to direct activities and get work done. Winchester Heights has now overcome two critical barriers to sustained development that held back previous efforts at community improvement: Lack of a central meeting space and lack of ongoing recruitment and training of a core group of community leaders.
SEAHEC has developed a community health worker driven development model that can be adapted by other rural border communities. Public health outcomes are closely linked to infrastructure. People who live in substandard housing with old plumbing are likely to face health risks, such as contaminated drinking water, or life threatening fires. If communities have no space for assembly, or a mechanism for managing resources, the likelihood of developing public health supporting infrastructure is slim. By helping people establish key infrastructure that fosters civic engagement, communities can gain the momentum they need overcome long standing barriers to health and safety.
Last year, SEAHEC helped Winchester Heights build a community center after several years working with residents and their community health worker team, which SEAHEC founded in 2013. One of the largest obstacles to getting things done was lack of meeting space. Ongoing community health worker training was conducted in cramped, ad hoc locations.
“Getting the entire community together was nearly impossible,” said Ms. Emrick.
People wanted a safe place for their children to play, and a space the community could use to work together on a long list of improvement projects, such as clean drinking water, neighborhood safety and raising the resources to have paved streets and streetlights.
The community would also have to develop organizational and leadership skills needed to manage a public facility. In 2017, SEAHEC helped the community conduct an environmental health assessment, and in the process, recruited and trained residents to form a community action board, (CAB.) The core of the CAB are SEAHEC’s community health worker team who provide health education, home visits and referrals to health and social services.
Now the CAB is poised to manage the community center and have made significant progress in raising funds to pay the bills. The place has also become a hive of activity. The biggest draw is the new soccer field, which is in constant use. The community center has hosted several social activities and fundraising events, as well as activities focused on developing the new facility, such as tree planting, putting in a community garden, building the soccer field and community clean up. In addition, distant service providers now have a point of delivery. The Chiricahua Mobile Clinic has its own parking space, and, along with other agencies, has improved its outreach to an increasing number of local residents. Instead of having to wait by the roadside or hunt door to door for clients, agencies can now post notices and hold events at the community center. In turn, the community center uses event revenue to help pay maintenance costs.
You can read more about the success of the Winchester Community Center in the upcoming summer issue of the SEAHEC Quarterly Bulletin.