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Third cohort of Emerging Leaders in Public Health work to transform agency roles in the community


ELPH Cohort 3 May 2019 K Grattan

It began with the telling of a famous folk tale about six blind men and an elephant and ended with shared learning on the successes and challenges of igniting transformation in local public health.

For two days, nearly 40 leaders in the third cohort of The Kresge Foundation’s Emerging Leaders in Public Health initiative came together in North Carolina to explore the “what, why and how” of systems practice, examine what enables or inhibits building effective cross-sector partnerships, discuss how to shift the narrative of racism and inequity and develop strategies for how they could engage the system to effect change.

“Everyone has an important perspective that we need to see the whole system, so we will never know the whole system unless we start to engage people. It has to be the whole community that shifts to a new way of thinking,” Karen Grattan, CEO Bailey Goldman, principal, community health systems at Engaging Inquiry, said.

Kresge’s Emerging Leaders in Public Health curriculum helps teams from county and local health departments become stronger leaders and encourages them to think beyond the traditional role of a public health agency to transform how each organization functions in its community. Collectively, the 20 health departments represented by these cohort members serve nearly 10 million people in cities across the country.

In addition to grant funding, coaching and technical assistance, teams challenge and support each other while they build new skills and tackle issues they face in their communities over the course of the 18-month program.

One major challenge communities face is structural racism and inequity, said Nashira Baril, project director at Human Impact Partners.

“There is racial inequity in every system – health, education, economics – but we use different terms,” Baril said. “If we are all trying to solve the problem individually, we are not getting to the root of the issue.”

While there is more work to be done on many fronts, the teams wrapped up the convening by sharing some of the successes they’ve already achieved.

In Black Hawk County in Iowa, Nafissa Cisse-Egbuonye and Eileen Daley initially ran into some challenges when they began their efforts to make the Black Hawk County Health Department the health equity strategist for the county.

ELPH Cohort 3 May 2019 Group

However, working with other advocates in the county, the two women gained collaborative buy-in from area stakeholders and used local media outlets and community meetings to share information about their role and work.

“The way we are communicating about our role, multiple people in the community are now coming to us and supporting our transformation,” Cisse-Egbuonye noted.

In Snohomish Health District in Washington, the team of Jeff Ketchel and Nicole Thomsen have made significant progress in their efforts to gain endorsement of their engagement and strategic planning efforts to share services across counties from the Board of Health.

Ketchel explained that training he received through the ELPH program resulted in him completely changing his peer-to-peer communications approach to build more positive and productive relationships.

Thomsen highlighted that the program overall has helped her see herself in a totally different way.

“It has transformed my view of myself as a leader and showed me that I can use my voice in a different way,” Thomsen said.

“There are opportunities in the midst of what can sometimes seem like chaos,” said Phyllis Meadows, senior fellow, Kresge Health Program. “By sharing what you know and bringing other people along, you are helping others. You are transforming public health.”