Notre Dame-led coalition aims to address health disparities in South Bend-Elkhart community | News | Notre Dame News

The University of Notre Dame has brought together a coalition of community health workers, community navigators, and certified peer recovery coaches to advance research, provide educational opportunities for students, and improve public health in the community of South Bend-Elkhart.

The Michiana Community Health Coalition (MCHC) meets monthly to share knowledge and resources and seek solutions to issues that typically contribute to disparate health outcomes in the United States, from lack of access to housing and quality and affordable transport to poverty, inequality in education and mental health.

The group discusses issues and learns from each other and guests, including community experts and Notre Dame scholars. These conversations are also invaluable for researchers to truly understand issues on the ground and collaborate with community partners.

As trusted members of the community, coalition members serve as a liaison between the community and local health systems, helping to facilitate access to care and improve the quality and cultural competence of organizations and providers. individual.

“You swim across the river and swim and swim, and the health coalition comes in and says, ‘Here’s your boat and your paddle’ and helps you across.”

“These people work on the front lines of healthcare, listening and building trust within our community to improve our healthcare system. Their work is critical to understanding existing needs and helping to develop solutions,” said Jessica Brookshire, senior program director in Notre Dame’s Office of Clinical Partnerships.

Brookshire, along with Jennifer Lefever, executive director of the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families, and Jill Pentimonti, director of research advancement and federal relations, organized the group in December 2021. Initially, it started with four organizations — Beacon Health System, Saint Joseph Health System, St. Joseph County Department of Health, and Oaklawn — that had begun using community health workers and certified peer recovery coaches. These organizations recognized the importance of such work and the opportunity to learn from those on the front lines of community health. The coalition now includes more than 20 organizations from St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall counties in northern Indiana.

Jessica Brookshire

According to Brookshire, this growth meets the needs that exist. From the perspective of health organizations, it also speaks to the importance of awareness, cultural competence and health literacy, as well as the need to engage and learn from people who are members. of community trust.

Already, the coalition has developed a network to improve access to care and resources in all segments of the community. This includes things like housing, mental health care, food programs, advance care planning, and chronic disease management.

Vanessa Coutee is a Community Health Worker at Beacon Health System in South Bend, where she focuses on COVID issues and COVID vaccination. Participating in the coalition, she said, has given her the knowledge to better serve her clients.

“Before I started participating in the coalition, I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder what organization can help us do this?’ But once I started participating in the health coalition, it was like bridging the gap,” she said.

In this sense, she compared the organization to a lifeboat.

“You swim across the river and swim and swim,” she said, “and the health coalition comes in and says, ‘Here’s your boat and your paddle’ and helps you across.”

She said she now spends less time researching resources and more time engaging directly with her clients.

“Having so much information so accessible is a great thing for us,” she said. “It makes our jobs so much easier and allows us to focus on more important things rather than, ‘Oh, I have to find resources for housing or this and that.’ If you already have it, you can say, “OK, how else can I help you?”

The coalition is funded by the Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society, which recognized the group’s potential to build collaborations within and between community partners. In fact, after conversations at MCHC meetings, the Lucy Family Institute, the Notre Dame Lead Innovation team, and various community partners proposed and won a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new tests and technologies to reduce the lead exposure among children in South Bend. -Elkart region. Beyond the grant, the Center for Civic Innovation and the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values ​​have collaborated with MCHC on student projects to support the coalition and benchmark work across the United States. United.

Ultimately, the group plans to work with various campus and community partners to engage in conversations to improve community health and well-being, including securing sources of funding that connect needs to resources.

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