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Social Determinants of Health: Transforming the Buzz Phrase to a Rural Action Item

Lisa McKeithan, NC-REACH and Positive Life program director for CommWell Health


“When we created the Community Housing Coalition, our strategy was simply to identify and connect with all the community resources in our local communities,” McKeithan says. “So we invited the local homeless shelter organization, the United Way, the Salvation Army, Veterans Affairs, the faith-based community, and more. We invited everybody, because we wanted everybody. We wanted everybody in the same room and we wanted everybody to have a voice.”


Making sure the community has a voice is where a community’s healthcare organization can lead the necessary community work around the social determinants of health. The health expert leadership becomes an organizing voice for the community.

Having a large number of non-medical individuals in a room, most strangers to each other, giving each a voice, and having a strategic objective to accomplish in a limited amount of time might create a challenge for the hosting healthcare team. But McKeithan said, not so much for them.

Why? She believes that CommWell’s dedication to leadership and development (L&D) for every one of their employees is a major factor in NC-REACH’s success, starting with McKeithan and her colleagues feeling well-prepared to run a meeting of that magnitude.

Andrea Morales, CommWell’s Communications and Marketing Manager, further explained CommWell’s L&D program, the Eagle Excellence Program. Created by CommWell’s CEO, Pam Tripp, the course begins with a two-year on-line curriculum, called Eagle Excellence Flight School.

The Flight School is available to all CommWell employees and covers the foundations of leadership and “includes topics such as public speaking, team building, conducting and facilitating successful meetings, quality improvement, and Health Center operations.”

Following Flight School graduation, an employee becomes an in-person educator for other employees, applying what they’ve learned to other settings, such as quarterly staff training meetings.

“The goal of our program is that everyone is empowered to have a voice,” Morales said. “It’s a program that builds confidence, self-esteem, self-awareness.

Our CEO believes when our employees develop these special skill sets, like those required for conducting a large meeting geared to community collaboration, they create an empowered organization that can accomplish anything. A great example is the accomplishments of our NC-REACH program.”

McKeithan believes this type of training, spread throughout the organization, keeps the CommWell team always ready for the “What’s next?” challenge.  Our motto is ‘we want our excellence of tomorrow to be better than our excellence of today.

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