FRCOG presents community health goals in plan’s second year

  • Phoebe Walker, Franklin Regional Council of Governments director of community services, presents part of the Community Health Improvement Plan at Wednesday’s virtual meeting. SCREENSHOT

  • WALKER

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2022 2:24:56 PM
Modified: 2/4/2022 2:23:26 PM

GREENFIELD — The Franklin Regional Council of Governments laid out its priorities for the coming years Wednesday as it gave an update on the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which focuses on Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

This year marks the second year of the CHIP program, and the council is staying focused on its initial goals centering on the three community health indicators of Type 2 diabetes, anxiety and depression, and youth substance use.

“One year in, we’ve learned a lot,” said FRCOG Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker. “We still have the same goals that are still connected to the three health indicators.”

A working group is appointed for each health indicator. The indicators act as a point of context for each working group to target while they develop plans aimed at keeping the community healthy.

Type 2 Diabetes

FRCOG is working with towns to develop open space and recreation plans and with food security organizations to encourage residents to adopt active and healthy lifestyles.

This working group is focused on the physical environment of towns and what can be done to encourage people to go outside and exercise. Rachel Stoler, who co-chairs the Type 2 diabetes working group, said Colrain has laid out a Complete Streets grant plan and FRCOG is trying to identify other towns where these are happening.

A second focus was placed on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which can help low-income people access healthy food. Stoler said HIP access is one of the working group’s main priorities over the coming year.

“We definitely need more HIP-authorized sites,” Stoler said, “and that’s something we’re trying to lift up.”

Mary McClintock, the community collaboration coordinator at Community Action Pioneer Valley, said Franklin County uses HIP at a higher rate than other areas, but it’s still a low rate.

“Franklin County is one of the places that uses it the most,” McClintock said. “Currently, only 12 to 13% of SNAP users in Franklin County use their HIP benefits.”

Anxiety and depression

As many people are still adjusting to ever-increasing screen time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CHIP program is focusing on strengthening social and community connections.

“We are just going to have to deal with the fact that this is one of those things that brings on anxiety and depression,” said Timothy Ranney-Blake, co-chair of that working group. “Because we can’t meet in person and are restricted, these are things that continue to weigh on us.”

Jen Audley, CHIP project coordinator, said the plan is to work with several local organizations to build connections.

“We want to strengthen our connections to local partners and resources that already support people with mental health challenges,” Audley said. “Especially places that build on social connections.”

Substance abuse

Meanwhile, FRCOG is partnering with the Communities That Care Coalition’s working groups to work to prevent youth substance abuse.

The main objective, said group co-chair Jennifer Webster, is to try to involve children and teens in the process, which often “doesn’t necessary happen.”

“We want to give the opportunity to those youth,” Webster said. “We are being equitable in allowing young folks and youth to be involved with us as well.”

Webster and fellow co-chair Ricia Elwell-Socci put out a call to community members and organizations to join them in their mission. Those interested can fill out this Google Form: bit.ly/3Hta79Y.

FRCOG and members of the CHIP program also seek feedback on the Community Health Needs Assessment.

People in attendance highlighted the need for accessible housing and shelters in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. Another high-priority need identified was mental health support, as well as more access to general health care.

“One of the major issues in this region,” Walker said, “is access to health care.”

For more information about CHIP and the three working groups, visit frcog.org/chip.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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