At the November 2017, Health Disparities Research Group (HDRG) meeting, Danny Patterson, Coordinator, Collaborations and Partnerships, Gulf States Health Policy Center (GSHPC), shared about their experiences with coalition building to work for improving health outcomes. Working in 5 states (Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) GSHPC united with community members, partner organizations, and service providers to form coalitions including 130 multi-sector community organizations in the states of Alabama (cities of Bayou La Batre, Mobile, Birmingham) and Mississippi (cities of Hattiesburg and Gulfport/Biloxi) and Louisiana via LSU in Baton Rouge. Coalition members represent a range of groups including faith-based organizations, government, education, primary care, mental health, housing, academia, public health, business, law enforcement, and other community-based organizations. GSHPC works with both local and national partners in their work. The work is supported by the National Institute of Minority Health Disparities.
With a focus on health policy research that leads to positive change, the coalition building process included three basic phases: member recruitment, development of strategic partnerships, and training of coalition members. Activities taking place throughout the process include community information meetings, coalition member recruitment, policy focus area identification, subject matter expert presentations, community forums/policy scans, literature reviews, community action plans (in development) and action plan implementation. The goal is to “empower communities and increase their capacity to improve health outcomes.”
The local coalition is currently working in 3 policy areas: health literacy, financial literacy, and educational literacy. In terms of health literacy, the coalition is working on local practice or policy change by creating pathways for data sharing between Ozanam Charitable Pharmacy and Mobile Board of Health Clinics. The current research pilot, designed by the coalition, will recruit 50 diagnosed diabetes patients (as of November 6, 31 had been recruited). The two organizations serve mostly low-income and homeless individuals. The process under study will facilitate the sharing of information for the participating patients in order to provide more holistic care. To date, lack of transportation from the clinic to the pharmacy has been identified as one of the problems that will need to be addressed. The study will evaluate whether or not the increased communication between pharmacy and doctor translates into improved care and disease medication management for the patients.
During the question and answer phase of the HDRG meeting, Danny stressed the importance of transparency and open dialogue to build the coalition. Such an approach — a willingness to give a little while building something greater — helps develop the relationships needed to develop a healthy and impactful coalition.
Along with projects related to policy, the GSHPC coalition focuses on building community-based leadership capacity. This capacity is critical for sustainable once funding for the projects are over. The built capacity for local leaders to continue the policy work is essential for continued progress toward health equity.