The Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance is leading the effort to prepare a nine-county region that includes the Tri-Cities to be an Accountable Community of Health, or ACH.
The alliance is acting as the interim lead agency while the governing team is assembled.
Accountable Communities of Health are a key part of Healthier Washington, a statewide initiative to lower costs and improve population health and health care delivery. They’re groups of experts from a cross-section of fields — from hospitals and public health, to public safety and social services — who come together to work on regional health goals.
“We’re looking at all these different sectors that affect health and making sure they have a seat at the table,” said Carol Moser, executive director of the health alliance. “When everyone is headed in the same direction, your chances of success are enhanced.”
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Ken Roughton, director of Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, added that they’ll provide community-level input and direction.
The nine-county region includes Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Kittitas, Yakima, Columbia, Whitman, Garfield and Asotin counties. The state Health Care Authority earlier this year announced $700,000 to pay for the design work in seven regions, with each getting $100,000.
The money is through the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, part of a four-year $65 million grant to implement Healthier Washington.
The work includes setting up a governing board and leadership council, and creating a regional health improvement plan.
Each ACH will work on addressing some top issues.
In the local nine-county region — the group is called the Greater Columbia Community of Health — one potential area of focus is diabetes.
There are big pockets of the disease in rural areas, and “diabetes is just not an easy behavioral change to make,” Moser said. “We’re looking at some of the rates of disease and seeing if we can find some evidence-based interventions.”
The overall mission is to improve health in the region by cutting down on disparities, making health care delivery more efficient and empower through collaboration, innovation and engagement, Moser said.
The regional group’s governing board and leadership council are being put together, and the regional health improvement plan is expected to be done by year’s end.
Moser said the Greater Columbia group could be ready for ACH designation next year. The state wants all the regions to be ready by 2018.
Moser said she expects the Greater Columbia ACH to become a nonprofit group.
Along the seven regions undertaking design work, two others are on an accelerated path, with pilot ACHs. They’re both on the west side.
Moser said the ACH work is important. “Health is local. We can see that across the state. ... Health has a lot to do with your zip code,” he said. “”The strength of this plan” is that it allows regional participation, input and direction.