On Oct. 8, during the 2021 End Social Isolation and Loneliness Action Forum, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) responded to the question,”How does social isolation and loneliness get addressed from a public health perspective?” The Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness and the Foundation for Social Connection organized the forum. Three states participating in the Building Resilient Inclusive Communities (BRIC) program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), engaged in an NACDD-moderated panel discussion to share state public health perspectives around addressing and integrating social connectedness into their efforts. Staff and leadership from national organizations, including consumer groups, patient advocacy organizations, health plans, community-based organizations, mental and behavioral health advocates, and private sector tech innovators attended the Action Forum. Federal policymakers, thought leaders, healthcare professionals, and individuals experiencing social isolation and loneliness also were invited to partake in the event.
The need to address social connectedness and advance social connection is amplified as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The BRIC program is supporting states in identifying their role in impacting social connectedness, strategically building and enhancing partnerships, and informing future public health practice. During the Action Forum panel, Christopher (CJ) Johnson, Active Transportation and Built Environment Specialist with the Hawaii State Department of Health; Janna Simon, Director of the Center for Policy and Partnership Initiatives with the Illinois Public Health Institute; and Tiffany Bransteitter, Obesity Prevention and Wellness Section Chief with the Pennsylvania Department of Health described the efforts underway in their respective states. They also shared challenges and ways in which they’re approaching them; different partners being engaged and how; and commented on the value of public health in this space.
Hawaii: Hawaii is working with a coalition to activate A’ala Park, which is located in an area that has a high percentage of low-income individuals and populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and other health disparities. The activation will include a historic walk and live mural painting that fosters intergenerational connections. They also are scaling virtual multi-language kupuna (older adult) outreach efforts to incorporate social connectedness resources and training call center staff and community health workers on social connectedness guidelines.
Illinois: Illinois secured partnerships with the goal of developing a formal referral process to support and train community volunteers in administering reassurance calls and letters that support older adults and veterans in low-income areas served by the Egyptian Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Additionally, they’re developing partnerships between the AAA, Senior Centers, and colleges to co-develop and implement an intergenerational program focused on connectivity and technology. A walk audit in Cairo also is informing prioritization of projects that can improve both social connectivity and physical activity in the community.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania is integrating social connectedness strategies into Pennsylvania’s State Health Improvement Plan and State Plan on Aging. A partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, which operates six older adult centers and senior living facilities, is generating an opportunity to create “slow zone neighborhoods” identified in the City of Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Action Plan. Similarly, they are enhancing partnerships with AARP Philadelphia and Philadelphia’s Livable Community Network to co-develop a community-led engagement plan and to tie engagement of older adults into nutrition security and physical activity objectives.
Though challenges surfaced and continue to surface due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so have potential opportunities to support states in addressing health risk factors and increasing overall community resiliency. In collaboration with CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) and its Division of Population Health (DPH) as well as a team of nationally recognized experts, NACDD is working with 20 State Health Departments or organizations to implement the BRIC program. Through the program, states are receiving and leveraging training and technical assistance to work with local communities and promote healthy eating through nutrition security, improve safe access to physical activity, and reduce social isolation and loneliness through a policy, systems, and environmental change lens. Critical to their efforts is understanding the impact of social determinants of health and embedding health equity and social justice principles into all three strategy areas. Additionally, implementing the strategies with the goal of creating resilient, inclusive communities allows for an added focus on improving the lives of populations who are at disproportionate risk due to existing, systemic inequities – social, economic, and environmental.
NACDD’s team was honored to demonstrate the value of public health as connectors, influencers, and thought leaders during the Action Forum, and it is with great enthusiasm that we continue our partnership with the Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness and the Foundation for Social Connection.
View more information on the BRIC program