By Emmanuelle St. Jean.

Over the last several months county leaders have discussed improving the health of their communities by breaking down silos and connecting agencies and programs. While there is no one-size-fits-all model or process for integrating services, some common factors have emerged as relevant to counties. Whether integrating behavioral health services with primary care or linking health and social services systems, the following factors have emerged (1) leadership, (2) shared vision, (3) strong partnerships, (4) data and technology and (5) people-centered efforts.

  1. Through leadership a new culture of collaboration and coordination can be created and implemented. County leaders can develop and implement policies encouraging coordination between various agencies to achieve a particular goal. For example, data are not often shared across agencies, despite serving the same populations for a variety of reasons, including laws and regulations. Identifying certain data that can be shared, leaders can institute policies to allow the data to be shared across agencies for an initiative and again in the future.
  2. A shared vision is essentially a roadmap to achieving outcomes. It creates a framework in which stakeholders can determine where they “fit in” and what role they may play. Although articulating a single shared vision may be challenging, it is useful and meaningful for identifying where the county would like to be in 1, 3, 5, or 10 years.
  3. Strong partnerships are the backbone to integrating efforts. They allow counties to leverage existing resources to go beyond the changes sought. Furthermore, partnerships expand and maximize the capacity of counties and others to take a multilevel approach that leads to a systems and environmental change.
  4. Data and technology are major components for facilitating the coordination of efforts across silos. Connecting data across programs allows counties to expand their capacity to streamline services. Furthermore, data empowers counties to make decisions that can ultimately improve the outcomes of the people they serve.
  5. A person-centered focus helps counties to align their resources with that of their communities to determine the strengths and limitations of current activities and the resources needed to achieve goals.  A people-centered approach can potentially have a profound impact on the outcomes, quality of life and the community because it considers the needs and responsibilities of the individual and stakeholders of the integrated system.

Although the aforementioned factors are not the determinants to whether integration successfully occurs, counties are taking these factors into consideration in conjunction with others such as the financial context. Together, strong leaders and partners, a shared vision, use of data and technology and a person-centered approach can help counties to create and instill the systemic changes sought. The benefits of integrated services and programs can profoundly impact the community and lead to improved quality of services and outcomes.

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Originally posted at National Association of Counties.