By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- A $20,000 grant from the Southern Illinois School of Medicine will fund operations and program support through May for the Pike County Community Health Partnership.
"The Rural Health Initiative Grant will make it possible for PCCHP to continue its work toward collaboratively strengthening the health and wellness of Pike County's citizens," said Patty McIntosh, PCCHP treasurer and executive director of the Health and Wellness Foundation of Pike County, the partnership's fiscal sponsor.
The grant, administered by the school, was established through a state Downstate Health Initiative to advance innovative proposals that respond to access problems in medically underserved rural areas and in designated shortage areas such as Pike County.
PCCHP formed in 2007 to align collective community health goals, increase access to services, promote healthy lifestyles and find solutions to the county's most pressing health needs.
"Those needs and underserved populations have only grown, and given the economic climate and all the changes in health care, we see the need greater than ever," McIntosh said. "Initially we felt if we collaborated it would help, but I don't think we knew the degree to which it would become an essential part of serving Pike County."
The concept of health collaboration continues to grow in popularity, McIntosh said, and as funding shifts for programs, "collaborative organizations can find creative ways to continue the services."
Previous RHI support helped PCCHP sponsor the Ruby Payne program on understanding the culture of poverty, become involved with a childhood obesity program, develop a food pantry garden, hold a poverty simulation workshop, enable a consultant for the safety net dental clinic and support Pike County Unmet Needs while continuing an office assistant for one day a week, hold an annual membership meeting, distribute a quarterly newsletter and maintain a website.
A steering committee -- with representatives from Pike County Health Department, Illini Community Hospital, Mental Health Center of Western Illinois, Two Rivers Resource Conservation and Development, PACT Head Start, the foundation and two at-large community members -- provides oversight and direction for implementing the RHI grant activities.
McIntosh expects the latest grant to fund many of the same programs again in the coming year and to support some mental health programming.
"The partnership has been able to continue its work for the past seven years because of the RHI grant, state and federal grants and donations from the public," McIntosh said. "We are very grateful to the SIU Schools of Medicine for continuing to believe in the partnership."
Untold hours of in-kind contributions from participating organizations also benefit projects.
"That's a critical part," McIntosh said. "Our organizations understand why we do what we do. We all put in quite a significant amount of in-kind work."
WHAT THEY DO
The Pike County Community Health Partnership focuses activities based on priorities identified in a 2009 countywide health assessment.
Areas of need identified include:
• Increasing availability of and access to health programs and services for all residents.
• Identifying and assessing health disparities in an effective manner.
• Generating an authentic impact on health and wellness for Pike County communities.
• Improving public awareness and understanding of available community health resources.
• Enhancing focus on prevention versus treatment.
• Coordinating program resources to deal with scarcities and eliminating duplication of efforts.
• Maximizing the unique perspectives, expertise and experience of partnership members.
• Expanding ability to successfully compete for grant funding toward local health initiatives.
More information about PCCHP is available online at pikehealthpartnership.org.