The UNC Charlotte College of Health and Human Services and Mecklenburg County Health Department (MCHD) have launched a new partnership designed to improve community health and enhance education.
The Academy for Population Health Innovation (APHI) will strive to make Charlotte the nation’s healthiest community through forward-thinking research, implementation of evidence-based practices in public health, training and workforce development and community engagement.
The concept was co-developed by Dr. Nancy Fey-Yensan, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, and Mecklenburg County Health Director, Dr. Marcus Plescia.
“The APHI collaborative is uniquely designed to advance the ability of UNC Charlotte to provide world-class training opportunities for our students and bring the expertise and thought leadership of our many talented faculty to address community health issues, while working together to advance the health of our community,” said Fey-Yensan.
APHI will be led by Dr. Michael Dulin, a long-time physician leader who has been in the Charlotte region for over 18 years. Dulin, a former executive at Carolinas Healthcare System, says Charlotte offers a novel environment in which to deploy these forward thinking approaches.
“As the largest population center in North or South Carolina, Charlotte is an exciting place to work and live. Our increasingly diverse urban environment brings many opportunities as well as challenges around healthcare delivery and public health. My hope is to work across our community to put Charlotte on the map as one of the healthiest cities in the U.S.”
The initial goals for APHI are organized around building the infrastructure needed for future successes. Dulin is working to identify talented leaders at UNC Charlotte and the Health Department to assist in the endeavor while also applying for funding. In addition, Dulin is looking at national models of academic – public health partnerships to help model APHI implementation.
“The connection with the College of Health and Human Services will allow us to adopt new and emerging best practices and pursue innovative impact oriented interventions,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, director of the Mecklenburg County Health Department.
An existing program the APHI team will support is the Village HeartBEAT (VHB) Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. The program, led Mecklenburg County Health Manager Cheryl Emanuel, is an example of a community-based program that has successfully changed the health of high-risk community members. VHB targets faith communities to connect with thousands of Charlotteans. The project connects people to social services and promotes healthy behaviors within congregations and local neighborhoods. APHI will support the VHB team as they look to advance the model of applying evidence-based programs to prevent obesity and chronic disease throughout Mecklenburg County.
Big data and analytics will also be a hallmark for APHI. “We will use data from multiple sources across the community to better understand our community health needs as well as to evaluate programs over time to better understand their effectiveness.”
One key example will be in the deployment of the county’s community health assessment process, but Dulin expects that many of the public health team’s initiatives will be able to use additional support around data management and application of analytics capabilities.
Finally, APHI will work to provide UNC Charlotte students the opportunity to participate in truly community-based education. Students will get to work with the APHI team to work on key health related issues facing our community and better understand the application of what they are learning in the classroom.
“We want to engage students in working on real world problems that affect the community, so they gain experiences that will assist them when they move into the workplace while also knowing that their efforts have made our community a healthier place to live,” Dulin said.