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Another Voice: Alliance is building healthier rural communities

By Jeffrey M. Bowen

Nearly 23 years ago, as a new school district administrator, I was invited to work with a newly chartered regional network named the Healthy Community Alliance (HCA).

Funded by a $200,000 grant from the state’s Charles D. Cook Office of Rural Health, the alliance was launched in 1996 as one of 32 networks. To this day, the organization focuses on the health-related needs of rural communities including Arcade, Springville and Gowanda.

As a founding member of HCA, I marvel at how it has matured into a highly adaptable nonprofit dynamo that thrives in a shifting environment of competition and cooperation. Nowadays our service area includes 57 zip codes in parts of Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Wyoming counties.

Last year HCA staff served more than 20,000 individuals across dozens of programs, all designed to enhance the quality of rural life.

HCA accomplishments have historically supported young people, families and older citizens, with special attention to the disadvantaged or underserved. Currently we partner with the Springville Concord Elder Network (SCENe) to offer a popular educational speaker series. In Gowanda, we are providing living healthy chronic-disease self-management workshops. Recent grants won by the alliance ensure safe routes to schools, afterschool programs and family counseling centers.

The latest award is a $25,000 grant from the Health Foundation of Western New York to implement innovative ways to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable older adults. All programs and workshops are free for registrants.

HCA headquarters is a facility known as Community Place, a former elementary school in downtown Gowanda. The upper floors house 32 units of affordable senior housing. In addition, this facility offers adult day services, audiology services, a county store pantry, a private counseling practice, a family center, a county senior wellness and nutrition site, congregate dining plus off-site delivery of meals, and family doctors’ offices. In short, Community Place is an ideal central location for recreation, wellness and health promotion throughout the region.

Currently the alliance is playing an essential role in statewide health care reform. A major purpose is to reduce the costs and improve services to Medicaid patients. A key goal is to activate patient engagement in services that may forestall unnecessary hospital emergency room visits yet help the underserved take advantage of primary care services and Medicaid coverage.

Our diverse activities demand excellence in nonprofit management and policy. Our executive leadership and financial stewardship are outstanding. Policy, direction and accountability are provided by a diversified 14-member volunteer board of directors.

Good boardsmanship is a priority. We anticipate openings in the near future. If interested, please contact CEO Ann Battaglia at 716-532-1010 (abattaglia@hcanetwork.org). Feel welcome to tour Community Place or learn more at communityalliance.org.

Jeffrey M. Bowen, Ed.D., is a founding member of the Healthy Community Alliance and currently serves as its president.

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