The Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition is a volunteer group consisting of over 40 board members and over 100 task force members working together to improve the health, safety and wellness of Lycoming County residents. The coalition is made up of members of sectors ranging from public health and wellness to education and regional government that work together to bring awareness to proper sleeping habits for infants, bicycle safety and the dangers of elder abuse.
“Around the time I got involved, my daughter was around 3 years old so things such as car seats, safe sleep, and youth fitness were very important to me,” said Melissa Farenish chairperson for the Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition. “I’ve been involved with the Safe Kids Task Force since 2013. I’ve also been involved with our Bike Rodeo and giving out bike helmets to kids.” Farenish works closely with youth particularly concerning health, mental health and suicide prevention.
The group believes that collaboration from various parts of social service, as well as the private sector, bridges gaps between agencies and builds a strong community. Human and financial resources are also brought together to allow for efficient usage and to address various social problems within Lycoming County. With such a variety of organizations represented, the coalition is able to take on problems that may exceed the resources of any single organization.
To address the most pressing health and safety needs of Lycoming County, LCHIC advocates the key values of: collaboration; inclusiveness including representation from rural, urban, senior, youth, and other marginalized groups; fact-finding, pro-social behavior and awareness.
The coalition board meets monthly to review county health statistics and develop community-based responses. In addition to working collaboratively, the organization’s representatives work together to advance the quality of life in Lycoming County. Its goal is to help create a healthier and safer county and to improve access to affordable health care and social services. In addition, the group aims to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, reduce teenage pregnancy, eliminate ethnic and racial discrimination, and develop a healthy environment so that county youth may grow to become productive adults.
Farenish, whose regular job is as a community outreach manager for AmeriHealth Caritas, said filling the coalition with area professionals is key to its success.
“Charles Kiessling, the Lycoming County coroner, is involved with substance abuse prevention and suicide prevention. We have board members involved in a variety of programs – traffic safety, Safe Kids, and Safe Communities to name a few. We also try to educate the community. For example, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a hot topic. We discuss things such as not co-sleeping with your infant.”
Safe Kids promotes injury prevention for children up to age 19 as unintentional injuries are the No. 1 cause of death for children in the United States. This task force gives public service announcements twice monthly on Backyard Broadcasting and Bear County Radio.
Public safety announcements include topics such as making homes poison free, playground safety and heat stroke prevention. In addition, it holds Safe Kids Riverwalk annually and provides safety equipment to the public such as bike helmets, child safety seats, smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors.
Safe Communities aims to enhance safety on streets, in neighborhoods, and homes by promoting positive behavior. Past programs include pedestrian safety, “confusion corner” improvement, senior safety, and older adult fraud prevention. This committee also produces publications on topics such as babysitting, seat belt safety, and senior driving safety.
In addition, the coalition produces a popular educational series of articles for AAA called Sadie Says, with a readership of over 130,000. These articles address safety issues faced by older adults to help raise awareness of risky behaviors.
Another group within LCHIC is the Youth Development Task Force (YDTF). The YDTF aims to support, monitor, work, and raise awareness on mental and physical health and safety issues concerning the youth of Lycoming County. This is to be accomplished by facilitating evidence-based programming to improve the health, safety, and wellness of county youth. The YDTF is comprised of student representatives from all nine school districts in Lycoming County.
Community and Rural Health Awareness Task Force is the fourth major task force within LCHIC. Its mission is to identify priority needs through feedback and local data from individuals and groups living in Lycoming County.
Past initiatives of the Community and Rural Health Awareness Task Force include projects to strengthen communication within families, promote positive mental health, and to promote healthy, anti-drug behavior. Future programming will focus on accessibility to rural health care, tobacco use, and elder abuse prevention.