Institute for a Healthiest Maryland Established as Community Health Resource
Since September, Renee Fox, MD, executive director of the Institute for a Healthiest Maryland (IHM), has been cultivating collaborations with health-focused organizations around Maryland. She is working to establish IHM as a leading resource for the promotion of healthier communities in Maryland.
A partnership between the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the University, IHM was established in 2011 with startup funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fox, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine, maintains monthly Core Action Group (CAG) meetings, which include IHM’s academic partners and the DHMH Community Transformation Grant (CTG) team.
The advisory board, which represents multiple state constituencies, expands IHM’s visibility and reach in Maryland. Board members are selected by IHM co-chairs Joshua Sharfstein, MD, secretary of the DHMH, and President Jay A. Perman, MD, and come from public and private sectors, including local businesses, government, academic institutions, and health care organizations. A diverse board ensures that IHM receives input from various sectors that have an impact on the health and well-being of Maryland citizens.
The institute is working on developing collaborations with a number of groups on campus and throughout the state in their efforts to fight childhood obesity. These groups include the Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Obesity Research Center and the University of Maryland Extension, a statewide, non-formal education system within the University of Maryland, College Park’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.
In particular, the School of Medicine’s Growth and Nutrition Clinic focuses on school wellness policies and childhood obesity prevention. Through the institute, the clinic is working with colleagues from the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to expand its evaluation of how school wellness policies are implemented in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, in addition to the 17 counties covered in the existing CTG project.
IHM’s academic partners also work to promote tobacco-free, active living and healthy eating. Partners include the School of Public Health, DHMH, the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation, and Advocacy at the Francis King Carey School of Law, Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (MDH2E) at the School of Nursing, the Patients, Pharmacists, Partnerships (P3) Program at the School of Pharmacy, and MDQuit, which is funded by DHMH and located at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“The Institute for a Healthiest Maryland is a resource that will help transform all Maryland communities into healthier environments by providing support and resources to programs that encourage community health collaborations,” says Fox.
In its first year, the institute focused on establishing long-term sustainability, future projects, and a network of partnerships. One highlight was the pilot photovoice project, “Voices of Maryland,” which, through photography and digital storytelling, identified strengths and barriers to health in Maryland’s jurisdictions. Photovoice is an organization that uses photography to help disadvantaged communities tell their stories and achieve positive social change. Four health departments from Dorchester, Harford, Kent, and Wicomico counties participated in this project.
“The photovoice project helped the participating counties discover strengths, weaknesses, and commonalities among their communities as well as assisted the IHM gain a better understanding of their needs,” says Greer Huffman, IHM intern.
“By better understanding their needs,” Huffman says, “the institute was able to establish relationships with the counties. This project raised the visibility of the institute and an understanding of its services.”
In the coming year, IHM will build off of existing partnerships, form new collaborations with health-focused state organizations, and implement local outreach programs.