The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Patty Miller, CEO of the Missouri State Alliance of YMCAs, about how planning efforts narrowed the focus area for impact among a diverse group of network partners.  


To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win for your network planning?  

The thing that we are most proud of is bringing a very diverse set of network partners together for comprehensive, yet narrow, direction. It feels like coming out of COVID, especially in rural America, the needs are just vast and great. Everybody is trying to do everything. For our group, this opportunity provided us the chance to get a wide group of partners in the room and to narrow the focus to two areas. We decided to be very specific so we can all continue to do the great work we are doing, but as a network, to impact two goals. We are coming together and all bringing resources — time, talent, and treasure — to those two things to make something happen and hopefully create impact. 


What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar network?  

Our biggest lesson was around building on the momentum. Initially, we got people in the room, and they were very excited to be together. We gave them a chance to share their successes and so we could all learn about each other. Early on, we had this enormous amount of momentum and people were ready to do something. So, it was hard to tell them, we really cannot do anything, yet — we are going to plan to do something. We had lots of processes in that plan, so it was a matter of digging through the minutia and finding ways to keep people motivated. We found letting them tell their stories and making assignments, so people felt like they had meaningful work to do was effective. But, even still, we had like this lull that I call the third quarter. We did a lot of work on Zoom, a lot of work one-on-one, and then we were able to bring people back together to rebuild that momentum because we had a product, we had goals, and we had strategies to work around. 


How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s grant program impacting your broader health improvement efforts? 

Coming out of COVID, we lost a lot of infrastructure. We certainly brought an agenda to this grant that was clear in our application. We were very interested in planning around our evidence-based health interventions. The Y industry has five that we focus on related to chronic disease prevention and control. We brought the network partners together to really reinvigorate, relaunch, and redesign these evidence-based health interventions that we know work. But in rural Missouri, we do not have the resources to say, everybody needs to hire a diabetes health educator. What was interesting was when we got partners in the room, they also brought their challenges, their agendas, and their interests. So, what was really valuable was flushing out the commonalities and the awareness of where the gaps are. 


Do you have an example or story that illustrates the value of planning for a rural health network instead of a single organization at the helm?  

We decided as a network one of our goals is obesity. But what we recognized is that if we do a good job building the network, it might be year three or four or five years that we really work on diabetes prevention. But, if every member of the network can understand that and accept that, it builds this foundation for a network that will be there not just to address the two priorities that we identified today. But the network will still be around to address additional priorities in 2030. 


What will your network members be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic? 

Coming out of the pandemic there is realization that we have to be more willing to share staff and get creative around staffing. We are all in this crisis around being able to sustain our workforce and bring our workforce back to serve folks. We are all going to play nicely together now in terms of staffing up and supporting these programs that are meaningful in our communities.  

The other related piece is communicating and not duplicating. The staffing issue has caused us to consider whether we need to be the provider of specific services because we can use that staff person elsewhere. The staffing challenge has perhaps made us less competitive and made us recognize that if somebody else is doing a good job providing a service, we can focus on other things and not duplicate what is already out there. I think there will be more communication and a willingness to share, both staff and expertise, amongst ourselves to serve our community better.

About Author