Building a Regional Coalition from the Ground Up

Client Southcoast Public Health Coalition

Practice Area Coalition Management & Building

The Story of Southcoast Public Health Coalition

Southcoast Public Health Coalition (Southcoast) is a newly-founded Shared Services Arrangement (SSA) established under the Public Health Excellence (PHE) Program, funded by the Special Commission on Local and Regional Public Health. Comprising the health departments of Fall River, Seekonk, and Swansea (MA), Southcoast is uniquely positioned to optimize resources and bolster public health outcomes within these communities. Fall River is a city catering to a population of 94,000, while the towns of Seekonk and Swansea serve 16,000 and 17,000 residents, respectively. The varied populations of these municipalities within Southcoast create a dynamic framework where their varying size leads to a large differential in funding allocation and service provision. While members of these departments have undoubtedly crossed paths throughout their careers, and have shared a Tobacco Control Coalition, this marks the first time that the three of them have joined together in an official capacity.

Southcoast’s mission is to enhance local and regional public health’s effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. By leveraging collaborative efforts and resource sharing, the initiative endeavors to amplify the impact of public health services across the participating jurisdictions. While Southcoast’s collaboration is still in the developmental stage, its members hope to span a wide range of services, encompassing health education, disease control and prevention, community outreach, community sanitation, and environmental health protection within each community.

The Challenge of Starting from Scratch

The inception of the PHE Program marks a critical juncture in redefining regional public health strategies. The program is in its infancy, posing multifaceted challenges for Southcoast which stem from the absence of established norms and procedures for operating as a unified regional entity in Massachusetts. The absence of concrete operating procedures posed a challenge for Southcoast in navigating the uncharted territory of collaborative regional public health initiatives.

The absence of standardized protocols compounded the limited capacity within Southcoast to effectively manage the coordination of shared services and grant deliverables. While all three departments are excited to work together and provide more services to their communities, the novelty of operating as a unified entity presented logistical hurdles. Organizing and facilitating meetings, maintaining a work plan and budget, and keeping up with changing guidance and deliverables proved difficult for a group that already had their plates full of their everyday responsibilities. The demographic makeup of Fall River, Seekonk, and Swansea also made it difficult to create shared goals, as on the surface, a city of almost 100,000 has very different needs than small suburban communities. The lack of capacity to efficiently oversee the coordination of shared services and manage grant deliverables with a shared vision inhibited Southcoast from fully capitalizing on the potential benefits that the PHE program offers.

Consequently, Southcoast found itself at a critical juncture where the proactive intent to collaborate for enhanced public health outcomes encounters the reactive challenge of insufficient capacity and navigating the unknown. However, within these challenges lay an opportunity for Southcoast to pioneer innovative solutions, craft robust operational frameworks, and set precedents for collaborative regional public health initiatives in Massachusetts. By leveraging the expertise and resources within each participating health department and potentially seeking external assistance, Southcoast hoped to transform these challenges into catalysts for forging a resilient, effective, and scalable model of shared public health services, ultimately maximizing the program’s potential impact on community well-being.

How BME Strategies Responded

BME Strategies worked with the coalition to strengthen the collaborative framework of Southcoast, spearheading various initiatives and steering pivotal activities that reshaped the landscape of regional public health for the group. BME supported the coalition to develop a regular meeting schedule for Southcoast health directors and other stakeholders, evolving from initial biweekly sessions to monthly gatherings. These sessions serve as a venue for sharing innovative ideas, fostering dialogue, and nurturing collaborative strategies to bolster public health initiatives across Fall River, Seekonk, and Swansea. BME Strategies and Southcoast leadership maintain direct communication with the Office of Local and Regional Health staff, ensuring strict adherence to regulatory requisites and the seamless execution of programmatic requirements.

Leveraging comprehensive capacity assessment results provided by a statewide initiative, BME supported Southcoast in identifying key areas of focus to formulate a strategic work plan and budget for Fiscal Year 2024. Areas for opportunity included increased disease control and prevention support, data-driven health education and programming, and the standardization of inspection forms. These documents serve as a guiding compass, steering Southcoast towards optimal resource allocation and effective implementation strategies.

Seeing the critical need for regional staff to contribute to Southcoast’s collaborative efforts, BME created comprehensive hiring and onboarding materials for a regional epidemiologist and a regional public health nurse. BME’s meticulous attention to detail in developing these materials, along with the subject matter expertise held by their consultants in epidemiology and public health nursing, laid the groundwork for a streamlined and efficient hiring process, while also ensuring the seamless integration of new hires into the collaborative framework. Additionally, the facilitation of the public health intern program marked another noteworthy contribution, empowering emerging talents to contribute meaningfully to Southcoast’s public health initiatives.

The Results

Southcoast’s collaboration with BME is ongoing but has already yielded transformative outcomes. Notably, the results showcased substantial advancements, both quantitatively and qualitatively, amplifying the program’s impact and effectiveness.

Deliverables:

  • Southcoast not only successfully met all grant deliverables but also witnessed a budget increase exceeding 100%. This financial upsurge attests to the program’s enhanced efficacy and recognized value within the regional public health domain.
  • With BME’s support, Southcoast hired and onboarded a regional epidemiologist In their initial six months, the regional epidemiologist played a pivotal role in increasing disease control and prevention measures (including being awarded a national Tuberculosis forecasting grant) while developing data-driven regional programming, significantly augmenting Southcoast’s public health capabilities.
  • BME’s facilitation of discussions and management of the intern recruitment process resulted in the successful hiring of two summer interns. These interns not only contributed meaningfully to ongoing projects but also garnered commendation from the health department staff, solidifying the potential of future iterations of the internship program.
  • BME’s supported Southcoast in procuring essential baseline inspectional tools, including standardized inspection report software, laying the groundwork for streamlined and standardized inspection processes. This acquisition bolstered the efficiency and accuracy of inspectional activities, enhancing the overall quality of public health initiatives.

     

With these successes fueling the group to make more forward progress, BME Strategies and Southcoast will continue to work together to develop and maintain shared public health services for these communities.

Overall Impact Statement

Partnering with BME, Southcoast Shared Services Arrangement streamlined collaborative processes, met grant deliverables, and created a strong foundation for advancing community public health as a regional group.