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Cleveland Strong Project to Improve County Health

Gastonia, NC, November 1, 2016—Cleveland County Schools, Partners Behavioral Health Management, and Cleveland County government are joining forces to create the Cleveland Strong Project—a long-term health improvement initiative addressing challenging social factors in the county.

Social factors impacting health—also known as social determinants of health—are conditions in an area that directly affect a population’s health, such as poverty, safety, access to healthy foods and water, and education. The only way to improve these conditions is through community education, community support, and direct community involvement. The Cleveland Strong Project specifically aims to improve health for the high number of children in poverty in Cleveland County.

“Partners believes strongly in our mission to improve lives and strengthen communities,” said Rhett Melton, Chief Executive Officer for Partners. “There are no better opportunities to achieve this than by creating a community-based program focused on solving the core problems impacting health in a community like Cleveland County.”

“Cleveland County Schools is extremely excited about the opportunities presented with this partnership,” said Dr. Stephen Fisher, Cleveland County Schools Superintendent. “The ability to enhance our community is most exciting. Cleveland County is blessed to have so many community agencies willing to partner together to build a better tomorrow for everyone.”

The Cleveland Strong Project hired a Community Coordinator on September 12 to develop a community-level strategy for improving social conditions affecting health through community collaboration. The new coordinator, Chris Gash, provides direct support to community-driven projects, manages data collection and analysis, and reports on progress. Gash has a degree in Psychology and Pastoral Care and Counseling, served as an elected official in Kingstown, NC, has experience as a youth pastor and site director for Communities in Schools in Shelby, NC, and was a social worker for Cleveland County Department of Social Services. “This will be a life-changing project for Cleveland County,” said Gash.

“Chris Gash has already made a big difference in our efforts as the point person for the work and investment from all of the partner agencies,” added Dr. Fisher.

“The Cleveland County Board of Commissioners have been steadfast over the past decade, through tremendous Economic Development partnerships, to attract good companies and grow Cleveland County’s job base,” said Cleveland County Manager Jeff Richardson. “As a result, unemployment has decreased dramatically over that time. Workforce readiness, poverty, and overall community health are our community’s next big challenges. All three of these issues go hand-in-hand and this initiative will attempt to tackle them simultaneously. We are proud to be a part of the Cleveland Strong Project and believe these efforts will have a positive, long-lasting impact on our community.”

The project strategy uses the Collective Impact Model to address the social determinants of health at the community level. The model guides the community to adopt a culture of continuous improvement by using existing resources to eliminate local, social disparities. Concerning areas in need of improvement for Cleveland County are the number of single-parent households, the number of children in poverty, the number of teens giving birth, and workforce readiness. By improving these areas, the project will directly impact poverty, access to mental health services, and substance use for the children of Cleveland County.

“Partners is pleased to use Medicaid-savings reinvestment dollars to help fund the Cleveland Strong Project and its Community Coordinator because it is strengthening the community’s ability to close social gaps and improve the health of the entire county,” said Rhett Melton.

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