A Local Force for Health and Equity
Join us as we explore the power of New Mexico’s county health council system with Sharon Finarelli with the NM Alliance for Health Councils.
Question: Health councils have been with us for many years in what might be called “normal” times, playing a key role in the health of communities. Now each county is “building back better” after disruptions to healthcare, education, social services, and employment. What can you tell us about county health councils and their role in local development work in New Mexico?
Sharon Finarelli: The County and Tribal Health Councils Act mandates comprehensive, community-based health planning councils to identify and address local health needs and priorities and goes into great detail about how health councils are to implement the act.
Read the History of Health Councils
Question: The councils are clearly a very valuable resource, needed now more than ever. What is the mission of the New Mexico Alliance for Health Councils?
Sharon Finarelli: Our mission of the New Mexico Alliance of Health Councils is to improve the health of all people living in New Mexico by supporting and strengthening county and tribal health councils, advocating for health equity, and by providing a strong voice for community and public health. As for our values, we are committed to collaboration across our counties. We commit to collaboration among health councils and key public health stakeholders.
We value equity and inclusion within our organization and in our work to better the health of New Mexicans, recognizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion make us stronger. We practice a culture of respect and cultural humility, acknowledging all perspectives, and recognizing that words and actions matter. The health councils are committed to cultivating a collective voice on issues that benefit all health councils.
Question: How has the pandemic impacted the role of local health councils?
Sharon Finarelli: The pandemic actually brought an unanticipated opportunity to build health council capacity with training and technical assistance provided to support increased capacity in community health planning.
Question: What types of surveying and assessments can health councils do?
Sharon Finarelli: The legislation requires that health councils prepare a community health plan that is updated at regular intervals. The community health plan includes: a county or tribal health assessment and inventory of health resources; identification of health priorities determined through independent, community-based planning processes; and strategies and resources to address health priorities.
Question: There are a number of directories to services that exist, including our 100% Family Services Directory. The Valencia County Health Council, working in collaboration with 100% New Mexico, has developed directories that are vetted by calling all organizations to make sure the service provider’s offerings are up to date. The pandemic changed many organization’s capacity to service local needs. The directories are up-to-date, both online and in print, to share vital services for all residents across a county. Is this a process, and product, the health councils might wish to collaborate with us on across all counties?
Sharon Finarelli: We agree that it doesn’t make sense to have multiple people duplicating the updating process. At the same time we understand that different agencies and programs have different requirements to consider in updating. The NM Alliance of Health Councils encourages including the broadest possible directory information through sharing information from the NM Recovery Leaders Directory, Children, Youth and Families Directory and the directory that Presbyterian Health Care Services and Santa Fe Connect uses as well.
We would love to collaborate with the 100% Community [Family Services] Directory. This would be a fabulous option for our most rural communities to increase access to services who may be great service providers and yet may not meet the vetting process that 100% New Mexico uses.
In addition to the directory resource, ShareNM includes county pages, social initiatives, and will make websites available at no cost to nonprofit organizations.
Visit the 100% NM Ten Vital Services Directory
Question: The Valencia County Health Council fully embraced the 100% New Mexico initiative model, making it a key component of their work now called 100% Valencia. What are the benefits of health councils and 100% New Mexico working in alignment?
Sharon Finarelli: The act directs health councils to collaborate with other entities to develop programs, networks, partnership, and coalitions as necessary to improve health. This means that working in alignment with community partners like 100% Community is part of the core work of health councils. Although this may look a little different in each county or tribal community, the focus on alignment is clearly a value that all health councils hold.
Question: How can health councils support the goals of the New Mexico Department of Health’s, especially their health equity work?
Sharon Finarelli: Health Councils have a Health Equity Committee as a part of their design. The health equity committee looks for opportunities to bring justice, fairness, and access to all of the work that health councils do. This includes everything from strategic planning, to processes that health councils use to engage with community partners, to the comprehensive community health planning work that health councils do that include Community Based Participatory Action Planning.
Question: How can people connect with their local health council and what role can local stakeholders have in the work?
Sharon Finarelli: Anyone interested in working with health councils is welcome to either contact me at email@example.com or to contact their local County or Tribal Health Council directly. The roles with health councils vary depending on the structure and community health priorities of each health council. The Alliance is very happy to help facilitate partnerships with health councils.
Visit the health council contact list
Question: We currently do an assessment of access to vital services across counties, noting barriers to vital services that families and youth all need to survive and thrive. How can we collaborate with health councils on this?
Sharon Finarelli: We are actually in the process of collaborating on this by working with Community Action Partners, Human Services Divisions, and Departments of Health to develop a survey that includes 100% Communities as well as the additional questions that Departments of Health needs to include for community health planning. Stay tuned. We’ll share more information as soon as it becomes available.
Read the additional functions required of health councils, outlined in Section 4 of the Act HB0137
Question: What has led you to working with the Alliance?
Sharon Finarelli: I know the struggle of trying to find care for a family member and not having it available. I lost my son because, even though I was a clinical director, there were not sufficient resources to provide the level of care needed and as a result my son died.
I have a passion to build community resources from the ground up as a result. I know that it’s a tall order, but it will never happen if we don’t do what we can do when the opportunity is in front of us. I’m ok with second best options. and then when the first best is available, I’ll jump right in to that. What doesn’t work for me is opting out of trying to build healthy communities because of waiting for perfection.
Partnerships and community connection are the missing link when we look at building community services. As you can see, working with health councils to bring out the best of the knowledge and resources that are deep in the community is my calling. My personal and professional life have definitely led me to this work and I am honored to have the opportunity to be a small part in building a better world.