NORTHAMPTON — Cooley Dickinson Health Care awarded a total of $15,000 in grants to help local communities understand how they can improve access to healthcare services. Better transportation to healthcare services surfaced as a need last year when Cooley Dickinson worked with the United Way of Hampshire County and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to study transportation to healthcare. In March, Cooley Dickinson released the report “Getting to Healthy,” which highlights transportation challenges and offers recommendations for further study and action. “We learned from our most recent community-health needs assessment that transportation is a significant challenge to many people in our area,” said Jeff Harness, director, Community Health and Government Relations, Cooley Dickinson Health Care. He noted that access to reliable transportation is critical to daily life, whether getting to work or shopping, meeting family and friends, or seeking healthcare. One municipality and two local agencies will dig deeper into this issue with grants that were awarded in September:
• The Hilltown Community Development Corp. (CDC) will use $11,800 in funding to study and improve transportation to healthcare for older residents and people with disabilities across a 15-town area spanning the northern and southern hilltowns of Western Mass. “We look forward to this partnership to improve the lives of rural residents,” said Dave Christopolis, executive director of the Hilltown CDC. “This funding will also help the greater community understand the needs in the rural towns we serve.”
• The city of Northampton’s Department of Planning and Sustainability will use $2,500 in funding from Cooley Dickinson to develop a complete streets guide to assist with improving Northampton’s walkability. Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability, added that the grant will allow the city “to engage the community on how a complete street should look and function. Helping the community envision different scenarios will be enormously helpful as the city gears up to write a complete streets pedestrian plan next year.”
• A $700 grant to the Amherst Survival Center will support its pilot project aimed at getting clients to medical appointments.
Of the “Getting to Healthy” report and the grant projects the participants will undertake this year, Harness said he hopes the initiatives will be a catalyst for action. “These grants allow funding for innovative ideas to improve access not only to healthcare but to the things in life we all need to fully participate in society.” To access the report, visit bit.ly/1anA5LA.
According to Harness, the community health grants are part of a larger goal of improving the health of local residents. Cooley Dickinson conducts community health needs assessments and develops community health improvement plans as part of its organizational mission as a nonprofit healthcare system. The grant projects are due to be completed by April 2016.