2021’s opportunity to rebuild to public health

2021 Reflection

December 23, 2021

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed fundamental flaws in our health system. Then 2021 offered a beacon of hope. The world came to better understand COVID-19, vaccinations began rolling out and the campaign to rebuild our public health infrastructure remained before us. 

To prepare for future health emergencies, public health and health care professionals continue to push for more funding and coordination across sectors to improve the quality of our health system and rebuild communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. To support this, state, tribal and local governments are now receiving access to investments from the federal government through the American Recovery Plan Act

The 20 communities of the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge took the concept of building back better to heart by continuing their fight to improve access to food and health services. In the past year, HCCC grantees adapted to changes brought about by the pandemic and continued their pursuit of systems-level changes. They’ve created authentic opportunities for community engagement, worked across sectors to improve health outcomes and garnered more funding to continue their community-led work. For example: 

  • In Rochester, New York, grantees successfully advocated for their city to adopt legislation, committing the city government to working with and formalizing their Food Policy Council. The team has already selected 10 diverse leaders to coordinate efforts to create a healthier and more equitable Rochester food system.
  • In Cumberland County, North Carolina, grantees completed their county food environment assessment to develop a better understanding of the availability and accessibility of nutritious foods. This information will be used to improve the county food system by their newly developed Food Policy Council.
  • Dougherty County, Georgia’s partnership with the Albany Housing Authority has increased food access points in the county. Not only has this partnership enabled the team to identify barriers to accessing nutritious food choices, but it is helping them work toward eliminating these barriers where the Housing Authority’s various low-income housing projects are located.
  • Chula Vista, California’s county government committed to expanding nutrition assistance eligibility and providing $3 million to scale up the Mas Fresco/More Fresh nutrition incentive program to the entire county.
  • Collier County, Florida similarly won USDA funding to expand their Choose Fresh Choose Local program for an additional three years.

Rebuilding also means acknowledging that returning to the status quo is not an option. Investments from the federal government create an opportunity for equitable recovery and so community voices are needed now more than ever. HCCC grantees have heavily focused on rooting resident voices and needs in their work in an effort to co-create solutions this past year: 

  • In a collaborative peer learning session with the WIN Network, our grantees discussed strategies to build trust and share power with community members to allow meaningful participation in community processes. 
  • A workshop led by Sarah de Guia, HCCC advisory council member and CEO of ChangeLab Solutions, reinforced similar concepts and enabled our grantees to brainstorm and develop equitable solutions to community engagement. 

Other highlights of 2021 were the Annual Meeting and Expo and National Public Health Week, when HCCC grantees had an opportunity to speak to national audiences. At these events, HCCC communities shared strategies to advance equity and increase connection. 

We don’t know what is to come for the world in 2022 or how the pandemic will fare. However, we are excited to see how the Challenge grantees will continue their fight to improve access to food and health services in their communities. Don’t forget to join us next year during National Public Health Week and the 2022 Annual Meeting and Expo for more shared learning with HCCC grantees. 

Also, stay tuned for project milestones and updates in our next Highlights Report, which will be released in March 2022.

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