As community relations lead for the UVA Health System, Elizabeth Beasley sees herself as a connector. In her own words, she strives to “strategically and thoughtfully connect” the UVA Health System and its team members with partners in the Charlottesville community and surrounding regions to improve community health. She describes the UVA Health System’s community relations mission as, “Improving community health by partnering, not leading, but looking for partnerships that will aid in community health improvement.”
With a background in community health and experience working with the Thomas Jefferson Health District (the local health department), Beasley brings a wealth of expertise and community contacts to her role. “The more people you can bring together under this idea of assessing community health, the more buy-in you’ll have for developing a plan that will improve community health. You’ll have more opportunities to do more together, expand resources and so forth,” she states.
What is Community Health?
Community health focuses on promoting healthy living, preventing diseases and bringing the maximum health benefits to the greatest number of people in need. It also helps to reduce gaps caused by differences in race and ethnicity, location and social status, income and other factors that can affect health.
“There’s a much better understanding now, when we talk about health, that it’s really not just about healthcare, but about all the social and environmental factors where we live, work and play that lead to a person’s, and a community’s, health,” comments Beasley.
In the greater Charlottesville area, UVA Health System is one of over 100 community-based organizations who come together to assess health and develop an action plan. The culmination of the latest plan, known as MAPP2Health, resulted in four priority areas for addressing. The Health System is committed to addressing community health needs aligned with the four MAPP2Health priorities:
- Promoting healthy eating and active living
- Addressing mental health and substance use issues
- Improving health disparities and access to care
- Fostering healthy and connected communities
“A lot of the programs we’ve funded tie to more than one priority, since they are so interrelated,” comments Beasley.
How Does This All Work?
Primarily, it boils down to communication. “Having a role of connecting people, a lot of my day is meetings about who, how or when to connect to community health or civic engagement opportunities,” explains Beasley.
“One thing we’ve worked really hard on is creating a process for streamlining requests for funding from our community,” she says. “We say to organizations, ‘We have this community health grant fund, and you can apply for funding of your program, but it has to align to one or more of the priorities and should result in measurable outcomes. It’s got to have an impact.’”
Since joining, Beasley has helped the Health System expand its commitment to community health. “We are no longer the entity that just sponsors events. We had great community partnerships before I came, and a lot of what we did was sponsor events that would help organizations in their own philanthropy quests,” she states. “Now, we are trying to foster deeper partnerships by connecting our Health System team members to opportunities and also by investing in programming that is tied to community health priorities.”
So, What is UVA Doing?
When asked about UVA’s current community health efforts, it’s clear from her response how passionate she is about her work. She describes several initiatives and programs; more than I could possibly detail here.
“It’s really a wide variety,” Beasley says. “One is with the YMCA to implement a diabetes prevention program. It’s specifically for people that meet certain criteria to be considered pre-diabetic. It’s an evidence-driven program that helps address healthy eating, active living and healthcare disparities. It’s had great outcomes at other YMCAs across the nation.”
“Another exciting one is with the Local Food Hub,” she continues. “They’re addressing food insecurity with our community’s most vulnerable families. They are continuing to expand a program called Fresh Farmacy. The idea is that a person with a relationship with their health provider is looking for a lifestyle change but maybe doesn’t have the resources or the knowledge. This program provides them with locally grown fruits and vegetable and lots of education about what they are getting and how to prepare it.”
Making a Brighter Future
Want to learn more about UVA’s partnerships in community health? Would you like to get involved in assessing and improving community health? Get more information about UVA’s Community Relations efforts.
Beasley says meeting UVA Health System chief executive officer Pamela Sutton-Wallace during her time at the Virginia Department of Health was the catalyst for her current work. “UVA Health System had been a partner in MAPP2Health,” Beasley says. “They were always at the table but represented in different ways. In 2015, we embarked on the third MAPP2Health assessment process. Pamela Sutton-Wallace began coming to the leadership council meetings for MAPP2Health. From the very beginning, she was there and stuck it out for 18 months.”
“It really demonstrated the level of commitment and understanding of the importance of coming together around community health. Had she not done that, I would never have been interested in this role,” says Beasley.
She smiles. “It’s really exciting.”