Introducing Our Celebratory Blog Series: Showcasing the Remarkable Achievements of Maryland’s Award-Winning Counties!
Welcome to the final installment of our series dedicated to honoring the exceptional accomplishments of the counties that triumphed in the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2023 Achievement Awards. Over the past weeks, we have had the privilege of showcasing remarkable projects and initiatives that have made a profound difference in communities far and wide. Prepare to be inspired once again as we explore the final batch of innovative solutions that are shaping the future of our counties.
Let’s dive in!
Baltimore County – Bridging the Digital Divide for Older Adults
During the pandemic, it became apparent that technology and connectedness were necessary for older adults’ physical and mental health. Further research proved that as the internet becomes more integrated into everyday life, people who do not use the internet are more likely to become more disenfranchised and disadvantaged. Many reasons can be attributed to the growth of the digital divide affecting older adults, such as lower levels of computer literacy, technophobia, lack of access, lack of perceived usefulness, and physical and cognitive deficits. Understanding the need, the Department of Aging developed a Digital Inclusion Initiative to assist the estimated 200,000 older adults in the County’s population in becoming connected. A four-pronged approach was utilized in helping older adults to bridge the digital divide: – Training classes, both virtual and in-person – Providing devices like tablets, laptops, computers, etc. – Technology Assistance Helplines to call for quick support and training – Connection to Resources like Lifeline, the Affordable Connectivity Program, and others. Within the older adult population, it is essential to acknowledge that there are underserved categories where particular attention should be given to outreach, including minority groups, rural residents, and the economically vulnerable.
Howard County – Healthy Lifestyle in Residential Communities Project
The Healthy Lifestyle in Residential Communities Project was part of the Howard County Local Health Improvement Coalition (HCLHIC) ‘s new effort to strengthen community partnerships using a place-based approach with targeted outreach and education in identified residential communities to address diabetes and improve health equity. Eight residential neighborhoods were selected for this new pilot project based on data review and prioritization of low-income residents and those facing barriers to healthcare. Project implementation occurred between June and December 2022 and engaged residents from youths to seniors of various races and ethnicities representing diverse communities. Through collaboration with HCLHIC partners and Howard County Government agencies, free on-site sessions and events were held to promote physical activity, healthy eating, and connection to community resources. This project engaged twelve diverse community partners; four partners provided recurring fitness and nutrition sessions at specific sites and reached a total of 343 residents. Larger health fairs were offered at each location and reached a total of 585 residents. 92.5% of the participants reported enjoying the activities “a lot.” This project was successful in strengthening partnerships and building trust among residents. It serves as a model for future place-based community outreach efforts.
Howard County – Government Workforce Wellness and Prevention Screening
The National Institutes of Health reports Chronic diseases are a leading cause of morbidity, and preventative screenings are the most effective way to reduce the risk. However, many individuals do not take advantage of preventive screening services. Factors that reduce willingness to participate in health screenings include: lack of time off/leave, affordability, and lack of convenience/scheduling of screening procedures are cumbersome. COVID-19 caused significant disruptions in routine health care, where individuals stopped getting this care. Even with medical providers resuming regular office hours, individuals have been reluctant to seek regular checkups and screenings, significantly impacting overall wellness. Through a new effort initiated on January 1, 2022, which emphasizes a significant commitment to wellness initiatives and strategic partnerships with local organizations and insurers, Howard County Government launched and implemented several creative strategies to significantly improve wellness education, enhance access to Preventive health screenings, and reduce costs to the County and its employees. The program addresses systemic barriers inhibiting access to Preventive health screenings. Providing workplace screening events that are assessable to the public allows individuals to have free services and convenient access and eliminates scheduling/traveling to multiple doctor’s offices. It also reduces workplace absenteeism, mitigates complications from undetected/chronic illness, and improves the overall health/morale of the workforce. By instituting a change in the wellness paradigm, the County has succeeded in promoting healthy living for employees, dependents, and the community.
Montgomery County – Latino Health Initiative Asthma Management Program
The Latino Health Initiative’s (LHI) Asthma Management program seeks to reduce asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalization rates of Latino children in Montgomery County by increasing awareness, providing education, and empowering Latino families to properly self-manage their child’s asthma. The program offers free culturally and linguistically appropriate asthma management interventions for parents and caregivers in Spanish to help families with children properly manage their child’s asthma. Program participants learn about the environmental factors that can cause or worsen asthma symptoms and how to eliminate them or reduce their impact. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and unexpected restrictions announced in March 2020, the Asthma Management program was able to respond promptly by taking its classroom-based curriculum and developing an innovative virtual intervention consisting of a series of seven weekly one-hour educational group sessions, four 30-minute individual coaching sessions per participant, and one one-hour long virtual home environment assessment per participant. The program is delivered by a group of asthma coaches trained by LHI staff in asthma basics, coaching, active listening, motivational interview, co-facilitation of small virtual groups, use of virtual platforms, and social media strategies for outreach and recruitment. Since 2020, the Asthma Management program has educated 116 parents/caregivers, provided 464 coaching sessions, and assessed 114 home environments. An end-of-program evaluation assessed the effectiveness of the interventions reporting an increase in asthma knowledge from 65% to 89%, self-efficacy from 44% to 94%, having an action plan from 29% to 88%, reduction in overall asthma morbidity measured by a decrease in emergency department visits from 31% to 19%, hospitalizations from 17% to 3%, school days missed from 76% to 24%, and restriction of physical activity from 72% to 46%.
Anne Arundel County – Testing for SARS-CoV2 in Wastewater
Beginning in June 2022, the Department of Health, in partnership with the Department of Public Works (DPW), set upon collecting wastewater from the county treatment plants to provide statistical analysis of the presence of COVID-19 in the population of Anne Arundel County. Biobot Analytics analyzes wastewater samples and results of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) presence. Samples are taken from 7 wastewater treatment plants managed by the DPW. The Department of Health uses this data to provide information to the public and make decisions in responding to the needs associated with the disease.
Howard County – Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Program
The Howard County Health Department (HCHD) and the Cigarette Restitution Fund Tobacco Grant partnered with Howard County Government-funded Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to revitalize the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Program (The Program). The program was restored in the FY2022 grant period (07/01/2021-06/30/2022) to provide tobacco initiation prevention education and direct cessation services, including virtual/remote options (i.e., classes, one on one counseling, group counseling, and pharmacologic interventions) to improve the quality of lives for resident and to prevent tobacco-related illness and disease within the County. The program aims to assist residents to prevent initiation among youth and adults, promote quitting among youth and adults, and advancing health equity by identifying and eliminating commercial tobacco product-related inequities and disparities. This program aims to build community capacity and engagement to influence social norms to foster a tobacco-free environment by providing no-cost direct cessation classes/services and medications. No cost medical evaluation, clearance, and counseling will be provided by a clinician to any participant who desires assistance with tobacco cessation medications: numerical class attendance, outreach data, and information on satisfaction surveys measure outcomes.
Howard County – Harm Reduction and Peer Recovery Services Program
The Harm Reduction and Peer Recovery Services Program (HRPR) in the Howard County Health Department’s (HCHD) Behavioral Health Bureau (BBH) provides direct support to individuals in Howard County (HC) who use drugs and seek to mitigate potential adverse outcomes of drug use. Further, Peer Recovery Specialists work in numerous partner agencies to provide peer-based substance use support and resource navigation. To address this problem, the HRPR in the HCHD Behavioral Health Bureau (BBH) expanded services and locations to directly support individuals in HC who use drugs and seeks to decrease fatalities and other adverse outcomes of drug use using an evidenced-based harm reduction model.
As we bring this NACo Achievement Awards series to a close, we celebrate the remarkable accomplishments and inspiring initiatives showcased throughout. The dedication and innovative spirit demonstrated by county governments across the state have truly made a lasting impact on their communities. View all 2023 NACo Achievement Award winners through their interactive and searchable map. View our full series of 2023 Maryland Award Winners.