Live Well Allegheny: Paving the Way to Better Health Outcomes

logo_na2017NACCHO Annual 2017 will take place July 11­–13 in Pittsburgh. In the following blog post, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker shares how cross-sectoral collaboration has created new opportunities for improving the health of Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County.


By Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, Director, Allegheny County (PA) Health Department

Welcome to Allegheny County and its county seat, the City of Pittsburgh. Allegheny County is comprised of 130 municipalities and has a population of over 1.2 million residents (ACS 2013). Our region today provides an example of a dramatic post-industrial revitalization fueled by the health care and educational sectors. This progress is, in part, the result of a culture of collaboration between private and public sectors focused on improving the health and well-being of the region. Government, community- and faith-based organizations, academia, and foundations have worked together to achieve significant advances that are impacting the health of Allegheny County residents. These include the transformation of the riverfront, the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, the Pittsburgh Promise, a $250 million effort to promote academic success, and the implementation of award-winning job training programs. The large and committed foundation community has been deeply involved in supporting these efforts and ensuring that progress continues. As County Executive Rich Fitzgerald often says, “We come together to get things done.”

The health of Allegheny County has been bolstered by key leadership shifts at major governmental entities (city, county, health department, city planning) that are bringing new energy and opening windows of opportunity for rapid alignment. The emergence of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) as a key facilitator in cross-sectoral collaboration has made health a shared value and placed it at the center of the conversation. ACHD has brought together over 75 organizations spanning multiple sectors ranging from health care to public health, human services, transportation, economic development, and education to form a county Advisory Coalition with the goal of capitalizing on previous work to systematically transform the health of the community. ACHD has been eliciting grass roots concerns through a series of community meetings and garnered public engagement through its ongoing “Our Health, Our Voice” outreach campaign, a mechanism to share key information and statistical data about the health and well-being of residents. The culmination of these efforts was the release of the Plan for a Healthier Allegheny, the county’s community health improvement plan. The plan recognizes health equity and the social determinants of health as important cross-cutting themes to be addressed across five identified priority areas: healthcare access, chronic disease health risk behaviors, environment, maternal and child health, and mental health and substance abuse disorders.

ACHD and its Advisory Coalition were recently recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, as one of the five Public Health 3.0 communities across the country. This was due in part due to our Live Well Allegheny Campaign.

The Live Well Allegheny (LWA) Campaign targets the three behaviors—obesity/poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and smoking—that contribute to the major preventable chronic diseases (diabetes, cancer, pulmonary problems, and cardiovascular health) and 80% of deaths in Allegheny County. LWA was launched in 2014 by the County Executive and the health department and involves a large group of community partners. The initiative is built on a Health in All Policies framework and targets schools, communities, restaurants, and workplaces, encouraging them to make a commitment and obtain LWA status. LWA status requires a commitment to incorporating evidence-based practices that improve health. Examples for communities include availability of active transportation routes such as bike trails and sidewalks, employee wellness programs, smoke-free parks, and open streets events. For schools, options include offering healthy food in vending machines, expanding physical activity time, and providing nutrition education. For restaurants, activities include eliminating trans-fats, providing access to low-fat, low-sugar menu options and offering smaller sugar-sweetened beverage portions. And for workplaces, options include health and fitness programs and incentives for wellness. For more information on the initiative, visit http://www.livewewllallegheny.com.

LWA has also been successful at attracting outside funding, allowing us to concentrate our efforts in some of our most disadvantaged communities and address health inequity by helping them to incorporate health-promoting practices. We are working with our partners in economic development and food access to address healthy food availability and opportunities for active transportation. Today, LWA is a catalyst that encompasses all of the great work that has been and is currently being done to impact the health of our residents. We now have 43 communities, 10 school districts, 152 community partners, 30 restaurants, and 10 workplaces united in our efforts. The movement is growing, with a 200% increase in communities and partners that have joined in 2016. It is our goal to engage all 130 municipalities and 42 school districts in the effort. We are monitoring progress using our Allegheny Health Survey and a variety of other measures.

By addressing the culture of health in our many municipalities, we are providing residents with opportunities for healthier lives. LWA is but one of the many efforts of the Allegheny County Health Department. Our capacity to inform, influence, and coalesce efforts for the entire of Allegheny County is paving the way to better health outcomes.

To learn more about NACCHO Annual 2017, visit http://nacchoannual.org.