By Kruse Scholar Andrea Stoesz
For people unfamiliar with the Baldrige Framework, Communities of Excellence can be hard to understand. It’s a complicated, but simultaneously abstract framework, and is just now beginning to be tested in pilot locations across the country. Though Communities of Excellence may be difficult to wrap one’s head around, it’s already practiced in public health on a smaller scale. The challenge is connecting the dots between the work that’s already happening and the work we need to do, and demonstrating to leaders in public health that Communities of Excellence is not as difficult to implement as they previously thought, as many times they are already working with partners across multiple sectors to improve community health outcomes.
Take for example, the One Health model, which is widely accepted in public health. This model, whose origins go back to 1821, recognizes that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are inextricably linked, and in order to improve the health of one sector, the health of the others must also be considered. Further, it strongly encourages cross sector collaboration between public health practitioners, medical professionals, community members, veterinarians, academics, and many others.
An example of the One Health model in action is a 2010 lead poisoning epidemic in Nigeria. At the beginning of the year, the ducks in northern Nigeria began to disappear. A few months later, Nigerian public health workers found that hundreds of children across a number of villages in northern Nigeria had been sickened with lead poisoning, and one fourth of these children had died. A diverse team went to the area to investigate. With the help of the locals, the team discovered that many people in the area had recently begun working in gold mines, as the price of gold had recently risen. After working in the mines, workers inadvertently brought lead back into their home environment on their person, subsequently elevating local lead levels. The mass exodus of ducks was a sign of environmental stress and contamination, and signaled future health problems.
The One Health model is a small-scale example of how working across sectors can successfully improve health outcomes. One difficulty is demonstrating to public health workers how community health can be improved even further by working across a wider variety of sectors and how the Communities of Excellence framework can help establish and cement the partnerships necessary for continuous improvement. This is why, the Kruse scholarship program, which exposes graduate students in public health and public health administration to Communities of Excellence, is so important. It helps students build partnerships across sectors before entering the professional world. As someone who hopes to work in public health, I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn more and work with Communities of Excellence.
Read more about Andrea Stoesz here