Last month, the Strafford County Public Health Advisory Council (PHAC), comprised of a network of 165 community stakeholder and 62 organizations, released the region’s first Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), a comprehensive public health document with strategies, activities, and solutions focused on the health of Stafford County residents.

The CHIP reflects health and demographic data, as well as Frisbie Memorial and Wentworth-Douglass Hospitals’ Community Health Needs Assessments (completed in years 2012 and 2013 respectively), and New Hampshire’s State Health Improvement Plan. The data, together with input from community stakeholders and residents, helped Strafford County PHAC identify the five priority areas in the CHIP: substance misuse, mental health, obesity and nutrition, heart disease and stroke, and emergency preparedness. 

An overarching theme throughout the CHIP was increasing access to safe, affordable physical activity and supporting more opportunities for healthy, nutritious food. As a result, one of the top objectives of the obesity and nutrition priority area is to build a healthy eating active living (HEAL) coalition in Strafford County. This would help facilitate partnerships, leverage funding, communicate a unified message, and coordinate activities using the collective impact model that HEAL NH has found effective at both the community and state levels.

Even while the CHIP was still in development, an initiative to increase access to healthy eating was launched. The Strafford County Public Health Network partnered with Seacoast Eat Local to provide SNAP/EBT and their incentive programs at the Somersworth Farmers Market. The Somersworth Farmers Market initiative has also allowed them to collaborate with WIC and UNH cooperative extension program to improve nutrition in Strafford County. 

Several New Hampshire communities have recently completed similar plans. According to Neil Twitchell of the Community Health Development Section of NH Division of Public Health Services, “Community Health Improvement Plans are being developed by each of the state's 13 public health networks. To date, 10 plans have been completed and are posted on the host agency's website. All of the community-level plans align with the State Health Improvement Plan, which established 10 priority health areas for action by public health stakeholders statewide.” 

For more information about the public health network in your area go to: www.nhphn.org.

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