Organizing for Health: A Story from South Carolina

National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education's picture
Submitted by National Center... on Apr 18, 2014 - 12:08pm CDT

Resource Type: 


  • Rick Foster, MD, Senior Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety, South Carolina Hospital Association
  • Kate B. Hilton, Director, Organizing for Health; Principal in Practice for Leading Change at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University
  • Landis Landon, President, Immaculate Merchant Services; Resident, Columbia, South Carolina

In August 2011, a very different sort of town hall meeting was held in Columbia, South Carolina. About 90 people who shared the zip code 29203 sat down to talk about the health issues they faced. The list was long: lack of dental care, colon cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, mental illness, low birth weight babies, and more.

Any one of these issues is worthy of attention; indeed, in most parts of the US, you can find initiatives trying to either prevent or reduce the burden of specific diseases that affect specific individuals. But what if the approach was more comprehensive and more widespread — and, most importantly, engineered by the community itself? What if hundreds of people from across the community — representing businesses and insurance companies and local hospitals and municipal offices and professional schools — all decided to band together to turn things around?

That’s what the people decided in Columbia, South Carolina. WIHI host Madge Kaplan talks with some of the key leaders behind the effort — Rick Foster, Kate Hilton, and Landis Landon — who describe their groundbreaking mobilization.

Some of the concepts and goals underpinning the Healthy South Carolina campaign are quite familiar, such as increasing access to primary care and the community’s commitment to wellness. But what sets this initiative apart is the strategy they’re using to make any goal a reality. It starts with training some 300 leaders by the end of 2011. They’ll play several roles, but will focus in part on fanning out across Columbia, SC, to help individuals and neighborhoods develop wellness programs and policies. There will also be a major emphasis on improving everyone’s health literacy and communication skills. And every part of the community’s health care delivery system is pledging, along with insurers, to engage in serious discussions about how to improve access to primary care, reduce reliance on emergency departments for non-urgent problems, and reduce costs.

Institute for Healthcare Improvement