At its triennial health summit held on October 20 at Wilson College, Healthy Franklin County recognized residents and organizations who work to improve the health and well-being of Franklin County residents with the first-ever Community Health Champion award(s). Setting the stage for the awards ceremony, Claudia Schuchardt-Peet, a member of the Healthy Franklin County Leadership Advisory Committee, quoted Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, “Love is a firm commitment to act for the well-being of someone other than yourself. It can be personal or political, individual or communal, intimate or public. Love will not be segregated to the private, personal precincts of life, yet is ubiquitous. It affects all aspects of life.” Three categories of recipients were honored for their service and commitment to improving community health, including lifelong service, young professional and organizational.
The first Community Health Champion award was given to Sheldon “Shelly” Schwartz, a staff ombudsman for Franklin County Area Agency on Aging and a member of the Pennsylvania Ombudsman Task Force, for his lifelong service. He also serves on the court appointed Special Advocate Board of Directors, the Franklin County Mental Health Advisory Board, the Pennsylvania Senior Medicare Patrol, the Pennsylvania Military College Museum Committee, chair of the Tuscarora Managed Care Alliance Steering Committee, and is a member of the Healthy Franklin County leadership team.
The second Community Health Champion award was given to Sonja Payne, a Community Health Mobilizer with the Shippensburg Community Resources Coalition (SCRC), a part of Shippensburg University, for her stellar commitment and work as a young professional, passionately serving her community and connecting with those in need. Her current work with the SCRC is to provide quality social services and youth programs to help community members reach their full potential. She was instrumental in keeping the Shippensburg community together during COVID to address changes to programs, gaps in services, and other concerns. She leads and facilitates groups, programs and projects such as Hound Packs, the Shippensburg food and community meal calendars, the Shippensburg resource guide, the Shippensburg Human Services Council and the Shippensburg Learning Program and serves as a co-facilitator to the Healthy Franklin County food security task force. Accepting the award on behalf of Payne, was Dr. Liz Fisher, Chair of the BSW program at Shippensburg University.
The final Community Health Champion award was given to First Start Partnerships for Children & Families, a non-profit organization that has been providing early childhood education services to Franklin County’s children since 1965. In addition to its 38 classrooms throughout Franklin County, First Start Partnerships also offers home-based programs, free full-day preschool, prenatal to age 3 services, The Family Center, and The Bloom Professional Development Center. First Start Partnerships serves more than 800 children and their families across Franklin County, including children in Early Head Start, Head Start, and Pre-K Counts programs. Accepting the award on behalf of First Start Partnerships was Annette Searfoss, President/CEO of the organization.
Community Health Needs & Priorities
Key findings from WellSpan Health’s community health needs assessment were presented by Berwood Yost, Director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin & Marshall College, which concluded that Franklin County residents’ health issues are strongly associated with obesity and associated indicators such as poor eating, a lack of physical activities, and poor mental health. 72% of Franklin County residents are overweight or obese and over 80% are not getting the recommended amount of physical activity per federal guidelines. 21% of residents experienced a trauma in the last year, 46% of residents were stressed about money worries and 62% of residents experienced depressive symptoms on one or more days in the past two weeks. To see an executive summary of the CHNA findings for Franklin County, click here.
Yost also pointed out a social determinant issue, education, because it is becoming an increasingly important attribute that predicts health outcomes; individuals with a college degree have lower mortality rates than those without one. Yost said we saw the effects of the education divide during the COVID pandemic as seen in the CHNA, for example, only 58% of those without a college degree had received a COVID vaccination compared to 86% of college grads.
Stephanie Voight, Director of Community Health Planning and Evaluation for WellSpan Health, shared an overview of WellSpan Health’s plans to address the health needs in its service area, noting the overwhelming theme of the CHNA was the impact of living through the COVID pandemic and the widespread trauma, anxiety and mental health challenges amongst their patients, neighbors and communities they serve. WellSpan Health’s priority areas are access to care, mental well-being, social determinants of health and children’s health. Voight outlined specific actions that WellSpan intends to take and emphasized the importance of community partnerships and collaborations with many of them to have a higher impact.
Trond Harman, a Pediatric Therapist and LCSW with Keystone Behavioral Health, shared a presentation on the impacts of COVID on behavioral health, which according to the CHNA, 44% of Franklin County residents said that COVID negatively impacted their mental health. Harman’s presentation looked more closely at how COVID caused more social isolation, loneliness, grief and fear of infection and death and financial worries. Essential workers, like healthcare workers were disproportionately impacted by COVID by reporting more mental distress and substance use than non essential workers (42% of essential workers reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder versus 30% of nonessential workers). Teenagers were also negatively impacted with 37% of high school students reporting they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and 44% felt sad or hopeless during the past year (CDC 2022). 55% of high school students reported they experienced emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including swearing at, insults or being put down (CDC 2022).
Healthy Franklin County task force leaders facilitated a series of discussions to get input on their priority areas which include food security, nutrition and physical activity, behavioral health, early childhood education and health disparities. Community stakeholders had many suggestions, including conducting a hunger assessment, increasing awareness about poverty, working with schools and employers to address mental health of students and employees, providing quality and affordable childcare, and childcare providers need a higher salary. The need to address policy change and increase advocacy efforts to spur more system-level change was a popular theme throughout the discussions and the day. Healthy Franklin County leaders will be finalizing their community health improvement plans by the end of the year.
If you’re interested in learning more about joining a Healthy Franklin County task force, contact Noel Purdy at email@example.com.