The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Loretta Wilson, CEO and founder of the Rural Alabama Prevention Center, about how building off each funded prevention effort can create healthier communities throughout the rural Delta region.
To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your program?
What I am most proud of is the connections and the partnerships that we developed and sustained. As with any program that you are implementing in communities, you cannot do it alone. The partnerships — with church leaders, health care facilities, housing authorities, and volunteer fire departments — are a win-win for our programs and for the services that we implement. Having those entities on board makes the implementation of our programs more successful.
What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar program?
Sometimes it is challenging to keep the commitment and the attention of the participants. If you are using an evidence-based curriculum that requires 10 to 12 sessions, and if you don’t have anything outside of the educational component that keeps their attention, like incentives, you may lose some of them. For example, if the curriculum taught is specifically about diabetes or heart disease, it can be beneficial to have a professional come to those sessions to do a cooking classes or some of those extra pieces to enhance that curriculum. If there has been a lesson to be learned, it is to always go in with the focus on how to keep the participants engaged, so that you can be sure you will achieve the outcome you are expecting in terms of the number of people you will serve through an evidence-based model.
How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health’s Delta States Program impacting your broader health improvement efforts?
I ask my partners and my staff all the time, “what do you want out of this? What is it that you want? What is the big picture? What is our goal?” I see the Rural Alabama Prevention Center as identifying the health issues in rural Alabama and seeking funding, whether it is through grants, fundraising opportunities, foundations, gifts, or reimbursement for services. I see this center as the pinnacle of health improvement. We may focus on one general thing, like heart disease or diabetes, and then we build on it. We are always building on something because health improvement and prevention is a never-ending thing.
What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic?
We had churches and health care providers onboard and we were able to help them with telehealth equipment. But, for some of the people we serve, connectivity was still an issue and since we couldn’t meet in person, we had to make sure the curriculum continued. So the community health workers created a free conference line, and all of the participants and all of the churches were able to call in and still have those sessions online. That worked well for about a year. Then, one of our partners had the idea that it would work even better if everybody could visually see it. We provided funding for the churches to set up hot spots and projectors, and with just a few minor delays we were able to continue providing services.
Additionally, because of the funding we have received and the partnerships we established, we were able to ensure that over 65% of the Black Belt areas, or the rural, Delta counties that we serve, were vaccinated. As a result of that achievement, I received the Community Star Award that was given by the state of Alabama. I say I share this with our partners because it would not have been possible without their teamwork. I think if we can take the same energy that we had to ensuring that people were vaccinated and apply it toward addressing as social determinants of health and health equity, then we can start seeing our community and our nation becoming a little healthier.