Leekha: In making an impact, collaboration is key
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Leekha: In making an impact, collaboration is key

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News headlines about underage vaping appear almost daily. Across the country, nearly two dozen people have died and more than 1,000 have been sickened with a pneumonia-like condition linked to e-cigarette use.

Bloomington-Normal is not immune from the use of e-cigarettes by young people. Every two years, the Illinois Youth Survey is administered in the state’s schools. It gathers information about health and social indicators, including substance use patterns and youth attitudes. In the most recent survey, 7 percent of Twin City eighth graders, 15 percent of 10th graders, and 27 percent of 12th graders reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.

Local organizations are stepping up to do something about health concerns among youth, including vaping. They have secured a $1.5 million federal grant for efforts to help junior high and underage college students avoid the temptation of drugs and alcohol. The funding will enable a local coalition to continue work that has been impactful; past communication efforts have reduced reported alcohol and marijuana use among high school students. 

A key to the effort’s success is collaboration. Nearly 20 local agencies, government entities, schools, universities, healthcare organizations, and others are joining the effort. They understand that working together, they can deliver outcomes not easily or effectively achieved by working alone.

If you are not the parent of a local high school student — and therefore not the target audience for these communication efforts — this is an obscure example. Here are some other local collaborations that also might not be familiar:

A local council on recovery-oriented systems of care is charged with bringing together organizations that touch recovery from drug and alcohol use to make sure those leaving treatment are connected to services and community supports to help maintain their recovery. More than two dozen organizations participate.

The Frequent User Systems Engagement project helps persons with severe and chronic mental health disorders. Its aim is to minimize the time those persons spend in hospital emergency departments and in the criminal justice system. McLean County government and Chestnut Health Systems are project partners with support from several community agencies.

Both Chestnut and the McLean County Center for Human Services work with local school districts to place mental health counselors in schools. Services to students include drug treatment, individual and group counseling, family support, and a connection to local resources.

The McLean County Health Department, OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center, Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, and Chestnut collaborated to conduct a community health needs assessment. They sought public input, analyzed data, prioritized the county’s top three health needs, and will work with other stakeholders on a community health improvement plan to be enacted over the next three years.

Other collaborations are much better known. They include the Community Cancer Center, a joint venture of our two local medical centers.

Thousands of people have benefited by these cooperative efforts. They include school students, persons in recovery, persons with severe and chronic mental health disorders, low-income individuals, cancer patients, and their caregivers and loved ones.

The poet John Donne coined the phrase, “No man is an island.” Just as all people rely on others in some way to survive, no one organization has all of the answers or resources to address community challenges. Especially when it comes to serving those least able to help themselves, having the mindset and the willingness to partner and to welcome the expertise of others will be the attribute that makes life better for those needing help and for the community as a whole.

Leekha is chief operating officer of Chestnut Health Systems, Bloomington.

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