Rural Health Network Planning Program: North Country Chronic Disease Prevention Coalition

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Ann Morgan, executive director at the North Country Healthy Heart Network, about planning efforts for the North Country Chronic Disease Prevention Coalition in rural New York. 

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

I am proud of the breadth of organizations that we have involved and the degree to which these organizations participate. Our network includes both medical and behavioral health care providers. We are partnering with all of the Area Offices for the Aging across a seven-county region. We also have public health agencies and social care organizations that are helping with program delivery. Several regional and statewide stakeholders are participatingAnd, it is not just a group of organizations that come together for updates every once in a while. It is a group of organizations that really have done a lot of work to get us to where we are right now. 

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

The biggest learning is to take advantage of all the great resources that are out there — and you can do that without a grant. There is a wealth of information out there that you can take advantage of, like from the National Council and Aging or the Administration for Community Living. Many of these organizations also offer opportunities to participate in learning collaboratives where you can have some focused conversation and get technical assistance from consultants that support these networks nationwide.  

The other thing that I learned is not to hesitate to talk to other networks and learn from their experiences. Early on, we were connected with another rural health network in another part of New York state. We have been working with that network director, who is a bit further along in her network development, as our mentor for a couple of years now. Having that regular meeting time has been incredibly advantageous — to learn from her experience and to not have to reinvent the wheel because she has already been there.  

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

This planning grant is absolutely the additional support that we needed to formalize our network governance and operating structures. We really needed the support to get our network to the next level. As a result, I think we are going to be in a much better position to have a meaningful impact on the health status of the entire region. Not unlike most rural health networks, we are very large and very rural. The region that we cover is larger than the state of Massachusetts. While we have organizations throughout this region, none could do the work that needs to be done as an individual organization. It required that we work collaboratively to address our health priorities. By coming together and working as a formal network, we are able to work collaboratively and effectively to accomplish all the goals that we have set for ourselves. 

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

Our network is particularly focused on chronic disease prevention and the programs that our network members delivered previously, for the most part, were not delivered virtually. And because of the pandemic, we had to pivot to delivering these services virtually. As difficult as that was, and we continue to learn how to do this better, I think that having that capacity and the ability to deliver programs virtually is exactly what our rural region needed. We might not be able to offer a program on a regular basis in one area, but if you can make a program available virtually that gives people across a broad geographic area access to a program that they would not have had access to otherwise. 

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