The United States spends more on health care than any other country. Yet the health of Americans is worse than residents of other developed nations on more than 100 measures. Thirty countries have lower infant mortality rates and people in 26 countries can expect to live longer than we do. Many factors influence health—the condition and location of a person’s residence, the circumstances of their employment, the safety and transit infrastructure of the neighborhoods in which they spend time, and the degree to which policies and public sector activity align to meet the needs of constituents. Even so, in cities today, intentional collaboration at the intersection of community development and health is rare.
Invest Health, an initiative of Reinvestment Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sought to fundamentally change the way cities improve opportunities for their citizens to live healthy lives. Through this initiative, 50 mid-sized cities were selected to participate in a robust planning effort, designed to illustrate the imperative of taking action to address the social determinants of health in low-income communities.
Bennett Midland was engaged to support Reinvestment Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation from the very early days of the Invest Health initiative. Our team supported an accelerated competitive application process, which included extensive outreach to cities, establishing a process for peer review, and putting in place a fair, probative approach to scoring and selection. Following city selection, we collaborated with initiative partners to design a productive experience for participating cities, starting with the articulation of clear program goals at the initiative and city levels. We worked to resolve such issues as: the timing and tenor of convenings; common city benchmarks and deliverables; details regarding the breadth and depth of available technical assistance; opportunities for cities and initiative partners to connect; and the expertise needed to advance the work.
Bennett Midland served as the “city support team” for all 50 Invest Health cities, helping them arrive at an actionable plan for advancing local health outcomes through community development. Throughout the 18-month initiative, we made regular contact with the full cohort of city teams to understand the challenges they were facing and connect them to relevant resources and expertise. We identified common learning needs across cities and surfaced them to our program partners to inform ongoing initiative planning. We also developed a framework for tracking where each city was in the work, to measure the progress of the cohort across time.
In a brief span of 18 months, interdisciplinary teams of city government officials, community development experts, health care providers, and researchers worked together to develop solutions that will improve local health outcomes.
- In Missoula, MT, the Invest Health team identified poor walking paths and sidewalks as a critical gap in health equity for low-income neighborhoods. Rapidly gathering quantitative data and resident perspectives on the health impacts of walkable streets, the team secured $500,000 in funding for new sidewalks in low-income neighborhoods within just 12 months of launching their work.
- In Gulfport, MS, the Invest Health team worked with partners to develop a robust new data platform that identified key health issues. Using this rich data set, the team galvanized City and non-profit leadership from across the Gulf Coast to create a regional coalition focused on improving health through community-based development.
- In Asheville, NC, the Invest Health team sought to bring community members to the forefront of development efforts. By forming a coalition of over 30 stakeholders—including residents, city and county officials, non-profits, and local lenders—the team was able to elevate ideas and priorities for health-focused development from community groups and help them realize these projects.
- In Jackson, TN, the Invest Health team rapidly identified a former school building in a disinvested community as a catalytic property for the community. They developed plans to transform the building into a multi-use community space including a senior center, historical museum, and training kitchen.