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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Health Department Chosen For Nationwide Health Initiative

Allegheny County is one of four sites nationwide to be chosen for a new initiative aimed at improving health throughout the county.

The Bridging for Health: Improving Community Health Through Innovations in Financing initiative will have the health department working with the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to simplify and strengthen the links among different health-related areas, according to Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department director.

“As we begin to embark on this,” Hacker said, “I’m hoping that the (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) can provide us some technical assistance on organizational structure -- the best way to do implementation that we can learn from practices elsewhere. That will really help us move to the next level.”

The initiative, she said, will focus on three areas within the department that have already been targeted for improvement: collaboration, innovation and health equity.

“Any additional help that we can get from experts can only help us move in that direction at a more rapid pace,” she said. “I believe that these are the kinds of things that can help us learn from what others are doing already.”

The health department currently has five major prioritized areas when it comes to health in the county, according to Hacker. Those include access to health care, chronic disease behaviors (smoking, poor diet, etc.), maternal and child health, the environment and mental health and substance abuse.

She said that many health departments across the nation are struggling to come up with creative ways to fund health improvement efforts, but Allegheny County is fortunate to already receive funding from a variety of sources.

“I’m hoping that we’re getting a bit of visibility for the work that we’re doing,” she said. “I think the fact that we have the support of our foundations is somewhat unique.”

Allegheny County joins San Antonio,  Spartansburg, S.C. and Yamhill County, Ore., in the initiative.

“We’re in a good space here, and I think the word is getting out,” she said.

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