Blog Post

On the Shoulders of Giants with the 2014 Health Leadership Fellows

Today’s post was written by Brianna Moody, communications & policy intern at the Connecticut Health Foundation.

This year, the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) launched the latest evolution of our Health Leadership Fellows Program (HLFP). As in previous years, on June 12 the Class of 2014 presented their coalition projects to faculty and CT Health Staff. This time, however, something was different: coalitions had partnered with key organizations. Standing on the shoulders of giants, that is—working with change agents already championing health equity efforts in our state, the coalitions committed to 10 months of collaboration.

A New Mode of Learning

In previous years, coalitions designed projects within their own groups, but since, as an organization, we strive to leverage resources through community collaboration and partnership whenever possible, we had our Fellows do the same.

As a learning organization, CT Health believes in building on effective health equity efforts being made across the state. Partner organizations were pre-screened and the following organizations worked with the fellows to design projects that utilize a systems change framework:

Here we present an overview of their hard work.

A Portal for Community Partnerships

Opportunity: There are many community based organizations (CBOs) across the state addressing health inequities through outreach, education, programs, services, and policy work. Sometimes CBOs lack the resources to help them identify and target particular populations and problems and prioritize the allocation of resources.

Quiana Lewis, Darcey Cobbs-Lomax, Rhonda Evans, Wesley Dixon (not pictured)

Partner organization: The University of Connecticut Health Disparities Institute, to leverage interdisciplinary academic research assets in university-community partnerships to reduce health disparities in Connecticut.

Plan: Recognizing the barriers to university-community partnerships the coalition developed an interactive portal to engage both CBOs and university researchers. Research indicated a need to build sustainable partnerships and so the portal allows both parties to register projects and participate in profile matching in order to connect most conveniently.

Leadership Lesson: The coalition learned that the keys to successful CBO-University partnerships start with a memorandum of understanding, partnership sustainability, and a balance of power in order to match CBO needs with university resources in partnership towards health equity goals.

A Social Media Campaign for Health Equity

Andre Barkil-Oteo, Lawrence Young, Linda Barry, Kevin Galvin

Opportunity: Prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 65% of Connecticut’s uninsured were people of color. Fast forward to today, where more than 200,000 Connecticut residents have already enrolled in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act – and there’s more to do.

Could social media reach audiences of color more effectively during the next enrollment period, which begins in October 2014?

Partnership organization: Health Justice CT, a grantee of CT Health to raise awareness about the issue of racial and

ethnic health disparities and to find innovative solutions, and ultimately achieve health justice for everyone in Connecticut.

Plan: After several months of social media “listening,” the coalition planned a twitter townhall with Kevin Counihan, the CEO of Access Health CT, and the state’s insurance marketplace. The coalition also worked on live tweeting at enrollment events to learn from the ground up and initiated a thunderclap campaign, where they received more than 133 individuals who lent their social capital which translated into more than 130,000 people being reached with the message to enroll for health care before the March 31st deadline

Results:The message was blasted all at once on March 29th and potentially reached over 300,000 accounts, with 222 click-thrus to the state exchange website.  The twitter town hall potentially reached 119,910 accounts, and made 618,245 impressions. The campaign was so successful that Access Health CT has adopted the Twitter Town Hall to hold on monthly basis.

Access Health CT is the first state run agency to use social media in this manner and the project will continue to engage key populations to enroll in health insurance as the next enrollment period arrives in November.

Leadership Lessons:  The coalition was initially dubious about social media listening, but then jumped in with both feet to organize the Twitter Town Hall. They were particularly successful at leveraging an existing relationship with AHCT to create the hook for people to want to participate. One ambitious coalition member tried to persuade LeBron James to tweet the opportunity and we applaud her audacity and persistence! Based on this experience, the coalition now has a presence on Twitter as leaders in Health Disparities.

A Task Force for Cancer Control


Brenda Shipley, Michael Greene, Karen Hatcher-Sneed

Opportunity: Cancer is a devastating disease. Challenges to controlling cancer in Connecticut, including socioeconomic factors, transportation issues, race, ethnicity, and language, vary by region.

What is the best way to overcome these challenges, particularly for residents of color?

Partnership organization: The Connecticut Cancer Partnership, an organization with the mission to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to reduce the suffering and death due to cancer, and improve the quality of life of cancer survivors throughout Connecticut.

Plan: The coalition identified Southeastern Connecticut as their region of focus, and began to create a blueprint for establishing a multi-disciplinary taskforce including key partners such as health providers, faith-based organizations, employers, pharma, and others.

Leadership Lessons: As the work progressed, lack of funding and lack of domain consensus with stakeholders became barriers to taskforce viability. Knowing the project could not succeed without alignment, they came to a mutual and amicable decision to exit their work together.

The coalition learned how critical it is for all parties to be clear and transparent early in a project, preferably in the project development and planning stages. They also demonstrated how to exit gracefully and with a professional relationship intact.

A Communications Strategy for Dental Outreach

Opportunity: Oral health care for pregnant women and for women of color is woefully inadequate. Only 28 percent to 49 percent of these women seek any dental treatment in the year prior to their pregnancy, during their pregnancy and during the year after giving birth.


Rebecca Santiago, Diana Cardona, Rebecca Mizrachi, Yolanda Caldera-Durant

How do we reach these women and their babies?

Partner organization: The Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach, to provide charitable dental care to the underserved and build awareness of the importance of oral healthcare to create a healthier community.

Plan: The group developed a media and community outreach strategy and organized two focus groups with pregnant women of color in order to direct this population to the free 7th annual CT Mission of Mercy dental clinic which featured its first pregnant women’s clinic on April 25 and 26, 2014 at the XL Center in Hartford.

Leadership Lesson: With 18 pregnant women using the CT MOM pregnant women’s clinic this year, coalition members identified methods to reach even more pregnant women for next year’s clinic. “CT MOM needs OB/GYN champions to make oral care a regular part of prenatal care,” said coalition members. The CT MOM pregnant women’s clinic has the opportunity to build momentum and engage more partners to highlight this important aspect of prenatal care for pregnant women of color in CT.

A Toolkit for Community Engagement

Opportunity: Community engagement is all about relationships between you and your community. Working together sometimes creates challenges that prevent community engagement from being part of your everyday routine.


Mary Boudreau, Meshie Knight, Sharon Taylor, Tinashe Chapfika

How do we incorporate community engagement into every day practice?

Partner organization: St. Francis Center for Health Equity, to serve their community for optimal health through education, research, and engagement.

Plan: The coalition developed the Discovering Community Engagement Toolkit to better involve community members in making decisions and taking action to address health issues with the ultimate goal of achieving health equity. The toolkit addresses the preparation, implementation and sustainability of community partnerships.

Leadership Lesson: The coalition learned that leading in health equity requires them to have shared vision, empowerment, and courage to move toward progress. It involves proposing change to bridge the gap of race, culture, class, sector and geography.  “We need to have a willingness to be teachable,” said the coalition.


The fellows will graduate this afternoon at the Pond House Café in West Hartford. We are excited to watch as they carry forth their passion and continue leading health equity efforts in the state of CT. Congrats class of 2014!