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Published on August 10, 2022

Guilford County and Cone Health Partner to Improve Health of Whole Community

The partnership will apply Community-Based Design and Social Innovation to create better health for underserved communities.

Guilford County and Cone Health are building a joint innovation team that will take a different approach to improving the health of county residents. This team will use Community-Based Design to learn about what matters most to residents and uncover opportunities for change working with residents from the hardest-hit communities.

In Guilford County, data shows health gaps even when other factors are accounted for. Black and Hispanic patients develop pneumonia, on average,10 years younger than white patients, even though they have the same number of chronic health conditions. Black babies in the county are twice as likely to die before their first birthday compared to white infants. On average, white residents live three years longer than Black residents.

Removing barriers to good health is a major goal at Cone Health. “We know how to treat diabetes and heart disease and other chronic conditions that lead to poor health,” said Cone Health CEO Dr. Mary Jo Cagle. “We’ve been working within these communities for years, with painfully few improvements. Clearly, a new approach is needed, and we are taking it.”

“While the pandemic impacted all of us in some way, there is no doubt the health and economic impacts fell most severely on our lower-income residents, people of color, and Tribal communities, and that is directly related to their access to basic necessities like healthy food, a good-paying job and housing,” said Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston. “Through this partnership with Cone Health, we will focus on working with our most impacted communities to build solutions to address the whole picture of physical, mental, financial and social wellness for our residents.”

COVID-19 exposed health inequities at both the national and local levels. The new Social Innovation team will work alongside the most impacted community members to address the root causes and systems that are contributing to and perpetuating inequities in health. Community-Based Design provides several tools and methods for engaging residents in the process of identifying opportunities and working towards solutions. Cone Health has used Design-Thinking, a similar process developed in the for-profit sector, for many years and has started to gather more community input in recent years.

Guilford County is dedicated to improving equity among the wide variety of residents in the county, and that starts by listening to the experiences and input of residents most affected by health disparities.

“Communities know best what they need to thrive and, in the absence of government programs, have been working together to build their own systems for improving health for many years,” said Michael Halford, Guilford County Manager. “We want to learn what has worked and where the opportunities exist to partner more deeply to ensure all residents in Guilford County are able to thrive regardless of where they live.”

The combined team of six to eight staff members from Guilford County and Cone Health is funded in part through the county’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds. The team will focus on Community-Based Design to spark social innovation. Projects will be refined through community-level research, testing and piloting. Participation of County residents will be crucial at each step.

The Guilford County-Cone Health iTeam project is slated to run through 2026.