New Jersey Health Initiatives - A Better State of Health
A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program
Guest Blog: Building Bridges to Health through Partnerships with Higher Education
May 14, 2018
By Building Bridges to Health coalition partners:
Serena Collado, Director of Community Health at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset and Project Director; Walter Lane, Director of the Planning Division of Somerset County and Transportation Action Team Chair; Jeanne Herb, Associate Director, Environmental Analysis and Communications Group, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Toni Lewis, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Community Coach; Daryl Minch, Family and Community Health Sciences, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Somerset County; Tiffany Neal, MPH, MCHES; Daniel Puntillo, Community Coach; Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth; Kevin Sumner, Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission, and Leigh Ann Von Hagen, Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy Professor, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
In 2016, the NJHI: Building a Culture of Health–Communities Moving to Action, Round 2 initiative funded ten community-focused, cross-sector coalitions to make sustainable system changes and policy-oriented, long-term solutions for healthier living. While the annual County Health Rankings point to Somerset County as one of the top three healthiest counties in New Jersey, the Building Bridges to Health coalition found that county-level statistics do not accurately reflect the characteristics, health factors and health outcomes of the smaller communities of Bound Brook and South Bound Brook. The coalition received one of the ten $200,000 grants, which they are applying toward addressing the built environment, and particularly access to transportation, as opportunities to impact community health. During the first year of their grant, they participated in the intensive Boundary Spanning Leadership Institute, expanded and strengthened their coalitions and leadership teams, and developed Blueprints for Action that will guide their work for the remaining grant years and beyond. The coalition’s Boundary Spanning Leadership team and its Transportation Action team offer an update on this work.

Last year, our cross-sector collaborative team finalized its Blueprint for Action to integrate health and equity in local decision-making in the New Jersey towns of Bound Brook and South Bound Brook. Among other recommendations, the Blueprint shows a pressing need to address limitations in transportation infrastructure and services to promote active transportation. Now our team is working with a graduate class at the Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy to explore ways to improve the walking and bicycling environments in both towns.

Led by Bloustein instructor Leigh Ann Von Hagen, students are evaluating ways to improve health, safety, access, and connectivity by creating a Pedestrian and Bicycle Travel Plan focusing on children, seniors, and those living in poverty.

Led by Bloustein instructor Leigh Ann Von Hagen, the students are evaluating ways to improve health, safety, access, and connectivity by creating a Pedestrian and Bicycle Travel Plan focusing on children, seniors, and those living in poverty. The class is exploring approaches such as

  • Safe Routes to School
  • Complete and Green Streets
  • Crime Prevention through Environmental Design
  • Placemaking, and
  • Health in All Policies

We are also asking 4-H/Middle Earth high school student ambassadors for their input on places that could be made safer or more inviting, which the Bloustein students are integrating into their work. Professor Von Hagen notes this is a unique opportunity to engage high school students in creating a vision for active transportation in their community.

The Bloustein students are also working with school and local officials, the Somerset County Planning Division, RideWise Inc., and the NJ Dept. of Transportation. Their final plan will be used by both communities to consider changes to local zoning and planning to promote active transportation, to set priorities for transportation projects, and to apply for grant funds to undertake active transportation improvements.

How are you engaging higher education as a health partner in your communities? Tell us here

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