WHA Foundation’s 2018 Global Vision Award Recipients Tackle Homelessness and Health Equity

September 18, 2018

On September 18, the WHA Foundation announced the recipients of the 2018 Global Vision Community Partnership Award, including the “La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness,” nominated by Gundersen Health System in La Crosse; and the Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association and their “Barber Shop Health Advisory Committee” program, nominated by SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison.

La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness
The La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness (Collaborative) was developed to address an issue that has been growing in the city of La Crosse over the last decade. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data showed that 60% of the homeless individuals in the state of Wisconsin in 2016 were located in the region of the state that includes the city of La Crosse. From 2012 to 2013, the number of homeless families in La Crosse increased 100%. And, in 2013-2014, La Crosse County had its highest number of homeless students on record. In 2016, Gundersen Health System, along with multiple public and private entities, including nonprofits, health care, criminal justice agencies, social service agencies, faith-based organizations, veteran’s services and community volunteers in the La Crosse area came together under one umbrella to meet a single goal – to end homelessness in their community. 

With support from Gundersen Health System’s Office of Population Health, the Collaborative was developed and hired a consultant who was part of the 100,000 Homes Project in New York City to give evidence-based quality improvement processes to their efforts. The La Crosse community implemented similar innovation to change their homeless system, with their first target to end homelessness among veterans in La Crosse. In April 2017, the Collaborative received official notification from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs that La Crosse had effectively ended homelessness among veterans. La Crosse became the first city in Wisconsin and one of only 60 in the nation to reach this goal. They next focused on the chronic homeless population in summer 2017 and families experiencing homelessness in winter of 2017-2018. Goals were met for these groups as well, with an increase in housing placement of 386% for chronically homeless and 87% for families, shifting what was a crisis system to a prevention system.

Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association
For more than a decade, the non-profit Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association (RLWA) has focused on engaging the significant assets of the Black community within Dane County to improve health and wellbeing in Black men and boys. Chronic disease, specifically Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, has been a top priority on Dane County’s community health needs assessment since 2012. Also, in August 2014, the Journal of Health Affairs show Wisconsin to be only state in the nation with an increase in the 20-year life expectancy gap between the black and white populations. Through support from SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital, RLWA opened the nation’s first Men’s Health & Education Center inside Madison’s largest Black barbershop to help address these health disparities. 

The Men’s Health & Education Center has been working to address upstream social determinants by hosting regular focus groups and peer education training, and providing housing assistance and employment referrals for barbershop clientele, in addition to offering health education and preventive screenings on a regular basis. Their next initiative is the implementation of the Barbershop Health Advisory Committee, bringing together all eight Black barbershops in Dane County to offer preventive screenings and education to the 6,700 Black male clientele that visit the eight Black barbershops each month. Each barbershop will have its own assigned UW medical student, responsible for coordinating basic preventive health screenings such as blood pressure screenings, flu clinics, oral health screenings, BMI assessment, and nutrition education.

The WHA Foundation’s Global Vision Community Partnership Award is a competitive grant award created in 1995 to recognize the efforts of WHA members in meeting the documented health needs in their communities through creativity, innovation, partnership, and collaboration. To date, the Award has honored 46 innovative programs in communities throughout Wisconsin.

This story originally appeared in the September 18, 2018 edition of WHA Newsletter