Public-private partnerships play a critical role in mobilizing community health through building, enhancing, and sustaining county policies and programs. During a panel discussion at the National Association of Counties (NACo) Roadmaps to Health Forum held in Madison, Wisconsin, participants were able to examine that role with panelists Linda Langston, NACo President and Linn County, IA Supervisor; Cheryl DeMars, President and CEO of The Alliance and member of the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH) Board of Governors; Jennifer Pagels, Director of Human Resources for Trek Bicycle Corp.; and Renee Moe, Vice President of Resource Development for the United Way of Dane County, WI.
Partnerships are increasingly important as budgets are shrinking. Diminishing resources are prompting more conversations among public health and local government leaders on the importance of building partnerships across a broad spectrum of stakeholders. There was great consensus among panelists that cross-sector and cross-jurisdictional approaches had the most potential for transformative impact and reach. Langston encouraged those pursuing public-private partnerships to understand the core health challenges facing a community. She said she often asks, “What kind of community do you want to live in?” That question brings those to the table who can help to bring that vision to life. Langston also emphasized managing expectations: “Building a shared vision takes time and won’t magically happen overnight.”
What makes the business community care about health improvement efforts? Panelists revealed a broad range of triggers that prompted their organization’s engagement on creating healthier communities. For Trek Bicycle, Pagels explained that the death of a long-time employee due to obesity-related complications spurred their health improvement efforts. For the Alliance, Cheryl DeMars said the organization asked the question: “How can we help our employees and their families attain and maintain healthier lives?” Renee Moe shared that health was an integral pillar of the United Way’s overall focus areas which also include education and income.
All panelists agreed that health is inextricably linked to business outcomes. Employees in poor health cost the business sector more and the loss of productivity and high rates of absenteeism can negatively impact a company’s bottom line. Convincing business leaders that they have a role to play in creating healthier employees will yield tangible and intangible benefits for the entire community.