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 · By Debboe Fenemore

Using the Power of Collaboration to Improve Health in Somerset County, New Jersey

This post was authored by John E. Valenti, Director, Regional Alliance Development and State Government Affairs, Sanofi US

The home to Sanofi US North America Headquarters, Somerset County, was recently named the second healthiest county in New Jersey in a nationally recognized survey.

The County Health Rankings are part of an annual nationwide survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the survey’s website, www.countyhealthrankings.org, “the annual County Health Rankings measure vital health factors, including high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, unemployment, access to healthy foods, the quality of air and water, income, and teen births in nearly every county in America. The annual Rankings provide a revealing snapshot of how health is influenced by where we live, learn, work and play. They provide a starting point for change in communities.”

According to the authors, the survey is meant to serve as a call to action for communities to understand the health problems in their community, get more people involved in improving the health of communities, and recognize that factors outside medical care influence health.  The survey authors state that ranking the health of counties using not only traditional health outcomes, but also the broad range of health factors, can mobilize action on the part of governmental public health and in many other sectors that can influence and are affected by health.

Somerset County’s success in rising from the third healthiest county in New Jersey – a position it held since the rankings were started in 2010 – to #2, was the result of those focused on health in the county answering the call to action.

In 2010, a group of individuals and organizations from the business, government and nonprofit sectors interested in health and wellness came together to discuss how they could use the information from the Rankings and the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) to improve health in Somerset County and move up in the Rankings to the top spot.

The group coalesced around a shared mission to improve the health and well being of all those that live and work in Somerset County. Regular meetings were scheduled and participants soon realized that they could accomplish more by working together than on their own, and that there were immediate actions to be taken that could impact some of the data points that factor into the Rankings. The group recognized the value of collaboration and formed the Healthier Somerset coalition.

Healthier Somerset and its members have made an impact in several areas including employee wellness programs, school-based health programs, smoke-free parks, “Complete Streets” for bicyclists and pedestrians, and the “Take ½ to Go” restaurant program.

Sanofi was instrumental to the formation of Healthier Somerset, providing significant start-up funding for a project manager to organize the coalition’s priorities and activities.  Additionally, Sanofi’s New Jersey community liaison was involved in the formative stages of the coalition and participated on the Advisory Board to help guide their strategy.

Improved health outcomes from community collaborations received acknowledgement during the announcement of this year’s results from an official from the New Jersey Department of Health who mentioned that the top two healthiest counties had coalitions. Additionally, Healthier Somerset was recognized by the Somerset County Department of Health as playing a role in the ascension of Somerset County to #2 in the Rankings.

Congratulations to Somerset County and all those who played a role in this tremendous achievement!

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