Winchester Heights residents, SEAHEC staff, interns and stakeholders

The Winchester Heights community center construction is moving ahead at a good pace. Residents of this isolated rural community in northern Cochise County, Arizona have  long awaited infrastructure improvements that impact their health and safety.  

Thanks to SEAHEC and community partners, that dream is becoming a reality. The community center construction project is one of the most tangible results of SEAHEC’s Healthy Farms, Healthy Communities Program founded in 2009. Since launching Cochise County’s first farm based community health worker team in 2013, SEAHEC has worked with local residents to identify and address glaring health disparities in this isolated rural community. 

Among our successes include an increase in health knowledge and access to health and other services through a new health and social services referral system. SEAHEC also helped residents install bus stop shelters for school children.  In addition, we have been working with our CHW team, and community members, through workshops and community health education campaigns, to strategically address community health needs.

Winchester Heights youth participated in the meeting

Winchester Heights youth participate in the community discussion

The need for a public meeting and recreation space has become a focal point for community action aimed at improving overall quality of life in the community. SEAHEC staff and interns met with Winchester Heights community residents on Sunday July 23, 2017 to report progress on the community center construction project. They also presented the results of  a requested environmental health survey conducted with community residents. 

In March, SEAHEC acquired a contribution of three land parcels near the center of the WHC subdivision, and subsequent pre-construction work has progressed smoothly. SEAHEC expects to complete construction in November, and to hold a formal ribbon cutting ceremony during the holiday season.

SEAHEC interns Chukwuemeka “Emeka” Iloegbu and Cassandra Shah

SEAHEC public health interns, Chukwuemeka “Emeka” Iloegbu, from Mt. Sinai University’s Icahn School of Medicine and Cassandra Shah, from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, presented results of the environmental health survey they helped the community conduct this summer.  After the presentation, meeting participants gathered in groups to prioritize issues based on the new data, which the interns collected through door to door interviews throughout the community.  Residents identified five top priorities to address and provided suggestions for addressing them:

The issues identified included:

  • Neighborhood security
  • Sanitation 
  • Work environment 
  • Water quality
  • Air quality

The survey is part of a larger community environmental health campaign to empower residents address community identified health issues. A key component of the campaign is that the decision making process is driven by community members. The goal of the CEHA is to develop a long term strategic plan that residents can use as a framework to address long standing health disparities.

Next steps include refining and expanding the environmental health survey. Residents and CHWs provided input which interns will use to revise the survey. Data collected over the summer will be included and more households will be invited to participate. In addition, SEAHEC is planning to help residents conduct a more extensive water testing survey. 

Stakeholders present a sign announcing the community center construction project.

Stakeholders present a sign announcing the community center construction project.

A community’s  ability to improve health and quality of life is tied to the capacity to attract and manage resources necessary for basic public infrastructure such as paved roads, clean water, lighting and transportation. However, for a surprising number of rural communities, basic public infrastructure is  out of reach. 

Cochise County has about a dozen communities classified by HUD as colonias. Colonias are unincorporated communities within 150 miles of the US/Mexico border that, among other roadblocks, fail the eligibility test for federal infrastructure funding. Federal funding, usually requires identification of community boundaries using Census tract information. Many unincorporated communities in sparsely populated areas lumped into large census tracts making them “statistically invisible.” Being unincorporated, these communities often lack a governing body with the capacity to manage funds. These two factors often bar communities most in need from federal funding. 

Thanks to community partners who have supported SEAHEC’s Healthy Farms, Healthy Communities program we are creating a model that rural communities can use to build capacity to improve health outcomes and quality of life through the agency of community health workers and community collaboration.

This project is being conducted in partnership with Cochise Health & Human Services, Chiricahua Community Health Center, Project PPEP, Inc. and the community of Winchester Heights.
We are grateful for support from the legacy foundation of southeast Arizona and the Arizona AHEC program.