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20 Cities and Counties Pledge to Advance Health Equity

By Phil Bors on July 15th, 2020

APHA, NACo, and Healthy Places by Design will collaborate on capacity-building efforts to accelerate community change.

In 2018, Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities grant initiative was already underway when Healthy Places by Design was invited to coordinate a new element to its investments in community health. We helped the Foundation envision and design a virtual network of grant coordinators and partners from communities throughout the country. This attention to collaborative learning has paid incredible dividends, as people doing the difficult work of addressing social determinants of health join with peers from diverse contexts to exchange ideas about common obstacles. Although we are unable to meet in person, the peer learning network has become an important community unto itself, even across great distances. Local organizers continue to actively contribute to and learn from their peers long after their short term grants have ended.

Healthy Places by Design is delighted to be part of the latest effort to support communities as they advance health equity while increasing access to healthy food and health care services.

The Aetna Foundation, together with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), today announced the organizations selected to receive a grant as part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge to support communities that are changing the way they work together across sectors to reduce disparities in chronic disease outcomes.

This grant program will award a total of $2 million to teams of organizations that will work together to change the food access and health care systems in their communities and engage community residents as leaders in their work.

“Access to health care and healthy food can significantly impact rates of chronic disease and other health outcomes, with average life spans varying by up to 20-30 years in communities that are just a few miles apart,” said Aetna Foundation President Eileen Howard Boone. “We are proud to partner with APHA and NACo to support the work of the teams taking on the Healthiest and Cities & Counties Challenge to drive change and address these social determinants of health—work that is now more important than ever, given the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Challenge teams will each receive $100,000 to implement multi-year projects to advance health equity in communities where individuals are disproportionately impacted by health disparities. In addition to the funding, Challenge teams will participate in one-on-one technical assistance provided by APHA and NACo and co-create a supportive peer-learning network led by Healthy Places by Design over the course of the two years.

The project teams are located in the following cities and counties:

  • Chula Vista, California
  • Collier County, Florida
  • Deerfield Beach, Florida
  • Dougherty County, Georgia
  • Cumming/Forsyth County, Georgia
  • Perry County, Kentucky
  • New Brunswick, New Jersey
  • Paterson, New Jersey
  • Orange County, New York
  • Rochester, New York
  • Tompkins County, New York
  • Cumberland County, North Carolina
  • Wilkes County, North Carolina
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Cambria County, Pennsylvania
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Kerrville, Texas
  • Greenbrier County, West Virginia
  • Wheeling, West Virginia

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving health equity,” said APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD. “Successful, lasting change comes from cross-sector partnerships and engaging affected individuals and communities, which is why this challenge is so powerful. Together, communities in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge will be able to achieve enduring transformations to public health.”

Added NACo President Mary Ann Borgeson, “Counties play an essential role in protecting, promoting and improving health in our communities across the country. The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge recognizes the positive impact of cross-sector partnerships and offers opportunities for counties to develop innovative approaches to meet residents’ health needs.”

The project teams intend to use what they learn over the next two years to produce models and resources that can inform work in other similarly sized cities and counties across the country. Challenge communities have proposed strategies including:

  • Increasing access points for purchasing fresh produce and receiving health care;
  • Leveraging local schools as partners;
  • Addressing barriers to transportation;
  • Building more equitable models for food procurement and distribution;
  • Increasing coordination and data-sharing across organizations;
  • Improving health care referral systems;
  • Developing community advisory boards; and
  • Informing local policies.

An expert review panel selected the teams following a rigorous review process, which looked at a variety of factors including: level of innovation of their proposed approaches; intended impacts on systems and policy change; and alignment of diverse partners around common priorities.

Learn More:

The Aetna Foundation, which first launched the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge in partnership with APHA and NACo in 2016, is an independent, charitable and philanthropic affiliate of CVS Health.

The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at

Phil Bors

Senior Project Director

Community collaborator, enthusiastic brainstormer, and devotee of down time