Alumnus Spotlight: the Impact of Fellowship

Marian Arledge is the Program Manager and Communication Specialist at WNC Health Network, the alliance of hospitals in western NC working together and with partners to improve health and healthcare. She is also an alumnus of the Bernstein Fellows Program (class of 2015). For her, the Bernstein Fellows Program  provided the space at a critical time in her development as a leader, to consider the implications of long-term project development. She recognizes the importance of statewide connections fostered by the Fellowship spanning education, healthcare, and community development.

Alongside the Fellows in her class, Marian had the chance to learn about rural economic development and how it intersects with health. They examined the influences that the economy and health have on each other, which deepened her perspectives on community health data, and the unique challenges and opportunities that rural communities experience.

“Working with communities to examine their health data means looking much deeper than the numbers, and into the stories and histories of the people represented. The Bernstein Fellowship helped expand my appreciation for the local context behind the data.”

Marian coordinates WNC Healthy Impact, which is a partnership and coordinated process between hospitals, public health agencies, and key regional partners in western North Carolina, working towards a vision of improved community health. They are working together locally and regionally on a community health improvement process to assess health needs, develop collaborative plans, take coordinated action, and evaluate progress and impact. While this collaborative project was catalyzed in late 2011 by the ACA-mandated requirement for non-profit hospitals to conduct health needs assessments every 3 years, WNC Healthy Impact now supports the full range of results-focused community health improvement.

In western NC, the community health improvement process (health assessment, planning, action and evaluation) is still locally led and implemented. WNC Healthy Impact supports and enhances local efforts by standardizing and conducting data collection, creating reporting and communication templates and tools, encouraging collaboration, providing training and technical assistance, building capacity to address regional priorities and sharing evidence-based practices.

WNC Healthy Impact is now preparing for their third 3-year cycle of the community health improvement process, having completed the first regional, collaborative assessment in 2012 and second in 2015. As they enter 2018, they are looking at continuous improvement of the regional initiative, including updating the regional phone survey, expanding the secondary data sets, and refining communications products to best facilitate public dissemination of data. Their efforts are also strengthened by their use of Results Based Accountability™ to focus on improving performance measures.

Programs like WNC Healthy Impact highlight the central importance of community health assessments in creating community-oriented, data-driven collaborative efforts. They concentrate the potential of leaders and leverage resources for achieving results.

In a position that places her at the intersection of several fields, Marian reflects on her time as a Bernstein Fellow as a uniquely valuable opportunity to make connections that still influence her work. She feels she has a network of professionals who not only are “thought partners,” but friends and mentors in leadership. The two-year Fellowship gave her the chance to reflect on her personal leadership style and to develop long-term project planning skills, which included honing an ability to adapt to external changes in an ever-evolving environment.  Much of it comes down to “working alongside partners to keep efforts meaningful.”