The city of Richmond is among 50 midsize communities across the country named Tuesday as participants in a new program designed to boost health in low-income neighborhoods.
More than 180 applicants vied to participate in the Invest Health initiative, a program for cities with populations between 50,000 and 400,000 established by the Reinvestment Fund, a federally certified community development financial institution and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The goal is to tackle barriers to good health by bringing together representatives of government and private entities that will need to work together to tackle deep, systemic challenges, said Amanda High, chief of strategic initiatives at the fund.
“The complexity of the social determinants of health require that an equally complex set of relationships be built to address them,” High said in an interview Tuesday.
Education, training and housing — the type of social factors that help form the foundation of community health — will be the focus of local leaders selected to represent Richmond in the Invest Health initiative.
To that end, the city has been awarded a $60,000 grant, but the real value will lie in the opportunity to learn from cities with similar challenges and help lead the search for solutions on a national stage, said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City Health District.
“The money itself is probably the least valuable part,” Avula said. “The hook for us was that it was looking at ways to deploy resources in a (different) way; for a long time, our community thought about health as health care, and it’s part of the puzzle, but it’s not even the largest part of the puzzle.”
High said the initiative should serve as a pipeline of information for national-level philanthropists and nonprofit federal and state programs searching for solutions to social ills afflicting cities across the country.
Richmond ranked among the bottom quarter of Virginia localities for health outcomes in 2016, according to a list of county health rankings published annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The city ranked 114 out of 134 localities this year; that’s up from 128 out of 132 five years ago.
Quality education, access to transportation, jobs, workforce training and affordable housing all are critical to Richmond’s health, Avula said.
“We have a city where 26 percent of the people are in poverty and 40 percent of children are,” he said. “Unless we start addressing these other factors, nothing will change.”
Avula; Risha Berry with the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building; TK Somanath, CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority; Mark Constantine, president and CEO of the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation; and Sheryl Garland, vice president for health policy and community relations at VCU Health System, all were selected to participate.
The group is scheduled to attend a four-day kickoff conference in Philadelphia next month, one of four national gatherings for participants planned over an 18-month period, according to High. That comes in addition to three smaller group meetings and myriad projects and community engagement requirements.
“It should be noted that this will require a significant time commitment from the participants,” High said.
Richmond Memorial Health Foundation will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant.
“We anticipate a lot of alignment with the East End transformation,” Garland said of a push to deconcentrate poverty in a portion of the city anchored by large-scale public housing communities.
Garland said the heart of the city’s pitch to participate in the initiative emerged from a report commissioned by Mayor Dwight C. Jones, who established Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building to combat poverty and facilitate investment in underserved communities.
The work “will be challenging,” High said. “It has to do with resource application and equity and sets of issues that we hope to help teams shed a light on.”
by K. Burnell Evans