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Health Matters: Improving People's Well-Being in Knox County

Old Main through the Trees

By Adriana Colindres

Knox County, where Galesburg is the county seat, is the newest of just six U.S. communities to be selected for the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI). CHMI works to improve the health and well-being of people across the U.S. by activating individuals, organizations, and communities to build strategic partnerships that will reduce preventable diseases, close health disparity gaps, and improve access to better health care for all. 

Knox County is an area with "great potential, but great need," says Emily Webel, CHMI regional director for Knox County.

The other CHMI communities are: Coachella Valley in California; central Arkansas, including Little Rock; northeast Florida, including Jacksonville; the greater Houston area in Texas; and Adams County, including Natchez, in Mississippi.

Each of the six communities is at a different stage in the CHMI process, Webel says. The first to be chosen, Coachella Valley, is in its fourth year of the initiative. Knox County will enter its second year as a CHMI community in mid-2017.

"We are very much on the ground level," Webel says.

CHMI, part of the Clinton Foundation, doesn't fund projects. Instead, Webel says, "We use more social capital, knowledge capital, intellectual capital, relationship capital in that we leverage relationships we have with other entities."

CHMI working groups have been meeting in Knox County for several months. The working groups cover nine subject areas, including substance abuse, sexual health and disease control, and food quality and safety. A "blueprint for action" has been developed, and it was publicly released in February.

The blueprint is intended to serve as "a piece of reference for the community of the work that they have done so far and where they want to go," Webel says. "After the blueprint is unveiled, then the work really catapults. That's when we start developing what-next strategies."

The blueprint spells out overall goals, action steps to achieve the goals, and indicators of success. For example, one overall goal states that "Knox County will encourage healthy eating by providing access to fresh, healthy food and nutritional education." One of the action steps for that goal calls for strengthening collaborations with major health providers through a healthy-eating initiative, and one of the indicators of success is that nutrition education will be made available for all residents of Knox County by 2021.

The Knox County CMHI process involves at least 100 stakeholders across public and private sectors. Among them: Galesburg Cottage Hospital, OSF Saint Mary Medical Center, the Knox County Health Department, the Galesburg Community Foundation, the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development, Galesburg city government, area school districts, Knox College, Carl Sandburg College, the Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups, and faith-based organizations.

Webel says she has been "very cognizant" about being inclusive and reaching out to as many stakeholders as possible because CHMI's purpose is "to look at the whole health of the community."

"I'm a neutral convener and a facilitator. I'm not coming in as a health expert. I'm not coming in with an agenda to push. This is a community-driven initiative."

In that way, CHMI is similar to another ongoing, long-term project: Galesburg Heart & Soul; however, thetwo efforts differ in other ways. For example, CHMI covers all of Knox County, while Heart & Soul is focusedon Galesburg. In addition, they have different missions, with CHMI's focusing more onsystemic change.

She regards the two initiatives as complementary. "It's all for the good of the community."

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Printed on Sunday, July 14, 2024