Last year, the Southwest Washington Accountability Communities for Health, or SWACH, used a $1 million federal grant to encourage better access to Covid vaccines for minority communities in Southwest Washington, and now the nonprofit is lending a hand to other nonprofits to improve overall health in those same communities.
SWACH spokesman Ryan Carrillo said $2.5 million is being distributed in Clark, Klickitat and Skamania counties to more than a dozen nonprofit organizations that will address health barriers “through a racial equity lens.”
“When we think of health, we think about physical health, but it’s so much more than that,” Carrillo said. “It’s overall wellness, behavioral and mental health, access to transportation and all the different things that influence wellness. We’re trying to bring in different partners to meet regional needs through collaboration.”
In applying for the grant money, which comes from Medicaid funding, each project had to focus on at least one of these populations: Black, Indigenous, people of color, children and youth, LGTBQIA+ and low-income communities.
The organizations that received grants were selected through that equity lens by a seven-person panel comprised of community members and leader and nonprofit partner representatives. Details on each grant can be found on the SWACH website at southwestach.org.
These Community Impact Project awards provide funds for three crucial areas, Carrillo said: capacity building, organizational redesign and system redesign.
Capacity building focuses on developing a culture of equity and increasing community resilience, he said.
“It’s being able to support communities’ specific needs as they arise,” he said. “Ultimately it better positions these organizations to respond to emerging needs and demands in their communities. That can be training, learning activities and how different materials are being distributed.”
An example of capacity building is the grant to Ideal Options PLLC, which will address barriers to treatment for the opioid crisis in Clark County.
The goal of the project, according to the SWACH website, is to hire a full-time peer outreach specialist to expand access to treatment services, including outreach to help low-income communities deal with the crisis while creating awareness of treatment options and other resources.
But SWACH is also addressing the opioid crisis in other ways, said executive director Nichole Peppers, with its referral network, Health Connect Hub, and more directly through paid community health workers, employed at a variety of community organizations, and whose positions are funded by SWACH.
People in more rural areas like Skamania and Klickitat counties, where treatment facilities and internet access may be harder to come by than in Clark County, are particularly helped by community health workers. While they are not licensed social workers, community health workers are trusted members of their communities, often speak the language of their peers and can connect with people they encounter informally, such as through their church, to get the help they need.
“Southwest Washington, like the state and like the nation, is facing an opioid epidemic,” Peppers said. “It’s a crisis and deaths for lack of comprehensive resources impacts people across our communities.”
Another example of capacity building is the Bridgeview Resource Center in Vancouver, which will use the money to collect data on the most needed types of health interventions, provide training and educational materials, and help with hosting health clinics and other health-related events.
Organizational redesign means helping organizations to work on internal processes, Carrillo said, or create systems that will set them up for cross-sector collaboration. That’s where an organization that specializes in one aspect can build a bridge to different areas of people’s needs.
“One of the partners in funding organizational redesign is Lutheran Community Services Northwest,” he said. “They do a lot of work with refugees and their project we’re funding is for refugee behavioral redesign.”
Behavioral health refers to how our behavioral habits reflect our overall well-being, Carrillo said.
Another grant recipient based on organizational redesign is CultureSeed, a White Salmon-based nonprofit that offers year round outdoor mentorship for youth with a focus on mental health.
Starting as early as seventh grade and continuing through high school and beyond, young people meet regularly for outings, overnights, peer circles, counseling, mentorship and a summer outdoor adventure trip. CultureSeed serves low-income Black, Indigenous and other minority youth, and plans to use its funds to continue its “whole circle approach.”
The category of system redesign is where SWACH funds and supports collaborations and partnerships related to whole person health needs.
An example of system redesign that received the bulk of the funding is KLINK Collaboration, an effort between multiple organizations in Klickitat County, including White Salmon Police Department, Klickitat County Health and Senior Service, Skyline Health, White Salmon Valley Schools, and several more.
“Essentially it’s all these different organizations from different backgrounds to address joint efforts,” Carrillo said. “It reduces duplications of efforts and also creates a shared network of resources.”
Money for the grants comes from the Medicaid Transformation Project, Carrillo said, a partnership with health care authorities in Washington that is split into nine different regions with the goal to create and develop projects, activities and services that improve the state’s health care system.