Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community

Published 9:57 pm Monday, December 28, 2009

In some ways, the new year will represent a sort of new beginning for the 12-year-old Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community.

With a new leader for its board of directors, a fresh focus allowed by the maturation of its signature project and the prospect of it first paid executive, the organization is on the cusp of something new, and its leaders are working to prepare for the change.

Directors will develop new goals and plans during a strategic meeting in January, according to Bobbie Chapman, a founding member of the group who recently agreed to serve as interim executive director until someone can be hired to fill the part-time position that was created recently.

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“They’ll be busy, I can tell you,” Chapman said of whoever is destined to hold the new position.

Partnership members hope to have the position filled on a permanent basis by April and have already started the recruiting process.

Though it has maintained a variety of smaller projects in its effort to accomplish its mission of “coordinat(ing) the resources of our community in a collaborative effort to improve the mental, physical, socioeconomic and spiritual health of all its citizens,” a move by the Western Tidewater Free Clinic earlier this year to become independent of the Partnership leaves the group without a flagship project, Chapman said last week.

For the first five years of the clinic’s existence, it operated under the guidance of the Partnership. Now, the clinic operates as its own nonprofit entity.

That leaves Partnership members more time, now, for other projects, and they’ve turned to the community for advice.

One of the top priorities for directors when they meet in January will be to evaluate the results of a Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships assessment that was conducted throughout 2009.

People in all segments of the Suffolk community were asked to identify and rank the health-related needs of the city. Surveys and roundtable discussions resulted in a comprehensive report that highlights Suffolk’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. Chapman said the report will help direct the Partnership’s work in the coming years.

“MAPP gathered data from all over to help us focus our efforts,” she said. “We have held the focus groups. Now, we need to set about putting together a master plan.”

After 43 years working as a nurse at Obici Hospital, Chapman retired in 2000. But the Partnership that she helped found in 1998 to help improve the quality of life for Suffolk residents has kept her engaged in matters of health.

The organization has had some remarkable success stories, she said, pointing to the Free Clinic, the Healthy Eating and Fitness project launched in 2002, the Community Gardens project this year and other, smaller projects as evidence both of the Partnership’s success and its importance to the community.

But long experience and the recent MAPP results prove that there’s still more work to be done to improve the health of the community, she said.

“Lack of exercise, nutrition, obesity, childhood obesity, life expectancy — we want to do something about that,” she said. “We want to make Suffolk as a city a healthy place to live.”