As anyone who works in public health in Massachusetts knows, it can be challenging to work within a system of health departments and health programs that function city-by-city and town-by-town. Many years ago, the Department of Public Health developed groupings of contiguous communities that were encouraged to work together to carry out health assessments and health improvement efforts across borders. These are the Community Health Network Areas (CHNAs). Over the decades some CHNAs have remained active and others have stopped working collaboratively, but they continue to be one of the only structures for cross-border public health collaboration in much of the state.
Unfortunately the Department of Public Health has not been consistent in its support of the model, and in recent months they have indicated that the CHNAs may lose the last support that the department provides, the participation of the Regional Health Directors. Throughout the CHNAs’ history, one advocate at the Department has remained consistently supportive and vocal. Cathy O’Connor, the longtime Director of the Office of Healthy Communities, fought for the CHNAs’ and worked closely with all 27 of them.
Recently Cathy’s position has changed, and no longer includes support for the CHNAs. This change and the CHNAs’ interest in articulating their impact inspired the Inter-CHNA group made up of the 5 Metrowest CHNAs to invite Connection Lab to lead them in creating a quilt that explores the CHNAs’ impacts and importance. The quilt squares were made my Inter-CHNA members at a meeting in March. They included themes of connection, strength, support, collaboration, cycles, friendship and statewide impact. Once the quilt was put together, it was presented to Cathy as a way to say thank you for all of her work with the CHNAs.