Past Projects include:
The Westwood Survey
The Sierra Institute partnered with the Westwood Chamber of Commerce to conduct a survey to learn what Westwood residents want for their community. The questionnaire was based on similar surveys distributed in 1990 and again in 2000.
Areas of focus included reasons for living in Westwood, critical issues facing the town, opinions about Chamber events and services, and thoughts and ideas for local businesses. The questionnaire responses will establish an important record of what Westwood residents value about their town, and what they would like to see in the area. The responses will help future Chamber activities reflect the needs of the community. Additionally, the questionnaire results will be an important resource for community planning.
The questionnaire has significance beyond Westwood; taken together with the previous surveys, the responses provide data covering 30-years of attitudes in a rural forest community; a record of unprecedented depth.
The Sierra Institute has compiled the information and the Westwood Chamber of Commerce has the final report. This report should soon be posted. A presentation of the results of the surveys is being scheduled.
Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project: Assessing Community Capacity to Changing Rural Economies
By including residents in the assessment of 180 communities, the Sierra Institute pioneered innovative methods to evaluate community capacity, and impacts of disasters and resource management decisions on rural communities. The Sierra Institute also led the public involvement process in which, for the first time in a large-scale ecosystem study, the public worked with team scientists, both learning from and contributing to the knowledge of the study. In 1997, the Sierra Institute conducted the first social science assessment for the National Park Service, evaluating the social impact on nearby communities and institutional responses to the flood of 1997 when Yosemite National Park closed for two months. The Sierra Institute then conducted a social assessment for the US Forest Service of 130 communities in the contentious Klamath region to inform resource management and decision-making. These studies brought rural people into the research process and into discussions of natural resource and community development policy that affect their lives and livelihoods.
The Toxic Legacy of Mining
The widespread distribution of toxins associated with the Gold Rush, including mercury, arsenic and lead, constitutes the oldest and longest neglected environmental problem in the State of California. In March, 2008 the Sierra Fund published Mining’s Toxic Legacy report (PDF), the first comprehensive evaluation of what happened during the Gold Rush, including: the cultural, health and environmental impacts; the obstacles to addressing these impacts; and a strategic plan for taking action on this vast issue.
Contracted by the Sierra Fund in 2008, the Sierra Institute researched how the toxic impacts of historic mining in the Sierra Nevada affect human and environmental health and disproportionately affect under-served and vulnerable populations. This research led to the formation of a working group that lays the groundwork for development and implementation of a comprehensive plan to remediate environmental problems, develop health interventions to reduce the risk to historic gold mining communities, and protect the health of humans and wildlife throughout the Gold Country.
In 2010, the Gold Country Angler Survey was conducted and it was found that 47% of the anglers at Sierra water bodies, planned to eat what they caught that day and 92% had eaten locally caught fish within the last year. In a region with a legacy of mercury pollution, these findings are cause for concern.
In 2009 and 2010, people were interviewed at popular fishing locations within two hours of Grass Valley. Results of over 150 interviews indicated that the vast majority of people are consuming locally-caught sport fish from mercury-contaminated waterways, some in amounts that exceed safe levels and that they have limited understanding of the health hazards from eating mercury-contaminated fish. These findings indicate the need for action to address these problems. Key recommendations can be found at the Sierra Fund website.
The Sierra Institute continues to work with the Sierra Fund to develop and begin implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan.
Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, Public Law 106-393
In 2006, the Sierra Institute completed a national assessment of outcomes and lessons from legislation that provides funds for rural schools and roads, as well as mandating collaboration for forest restoration through citizen Resource Advisory Committees. With the expiration of the 6-year legislation in 2006, the Sierra Institute’s study is informing the debate in Congress about the law’s re-authorization. The Assessment of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (Public Law 106-393 can be read here.
Proyecto Salud: Plumas Latino Health Care Access Project (Building Capacity to Improve Health and Health Care Access)
Phase I: Proyecto Salud focused on understanding and improving health, health care services, and access for Plumas County’s growing Latino community. In January 2007, we completed a participatory assessment with Latino community members to assess their own health concerns, health care access needs, and resources in the community. We used a process called participatory research to build the capacity of the community to participate in discussions that affect their well-being, and to engage in projects that support health in their community. At the same time, we work with health and human service providers to identify and put into practice ways to better meet the health and wellness needs of Latino community members.
Phase II: Improving Language Access in Health care – In October 2007, with support from The California Endowment, the Sierra Institute launched Phase II of Proyecto Salud. The project works in partnership with local organizations and community members to improve language access and cultural competency in health and wellness services for Plumas County’s Latino community. Proyecto Salud’s participatory assessment documented that next to lack of insurance and affordable health care, language access (interpretation and translation) rose to the top of health care access needs. We are excited to build collaborative responses to this need.
Networked Health Care Access Project in Plumas County
Reducing health disparities in Plumas County by improving access to the health system for residents is a major goal of this program, which is implementing pilot projects in Plumas County schools. The Networked Health Care Access Project will explore how networked and coordinated health services can most effectively meet identified health care needs, improve student performance, and improve quality of life.
The Sierra Institute has partnered with Plumas County Public Health Agency and others to create a Local Health Access Coalition to address pressing health access concerns, like outreach, enrollment, retention, and utilization of public benefits in our communities. In addition, we work to improve language access capabilities and cultural competency for the Limited English Proficient (LEP) population.
Working with our partners, we have identified core activities for the project involving: creating networks of health and human services providers to improve service delivery, improving coordination of care, and quality of care; using telemedicine to increase the number of children who are screened and provided services for disruptive behaviors, chronic diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, and other health issues; using telecommunication technology to bring additional health education to the schools; and using telemedicine connect children to health providers when transportation and other barriers exist.
With generous funding from the California Endowment and the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Sierra Institute works with a variety of partners including Plumas County Public Health Agency, Plumas County Mental Health Agency, Plumas District Hospital, Eastern Plumas Health Care, Seneca Healthcare District, the Greenville Ranchería, and the University of California, San Francisco.
Hospital Network Conducts Assessment and Improvement Plan
The Northern Sierra Collaborative Health Network (NSCHN) is dedicated to strengthening a community-wide system of primary health care services available to all residents. One of the first group projects is a community health assessment to examine how the districts are serving their communities. A key NSCHN goal is to invest in local primary care and take responsibility for healing local ailing health systems. Taxpayers and hospitals bear the brunt of unnecessary costs for untreated health conditions. Coordination and collaborations can simultaneously reduce costs and improve health care services. Improving quality and reducing costs through prevention and primary care are essential parts of this local effort.
Community residents will be invited to participate in the town hall meetings that will be scheduled starting in October 2011 and advertised in local newspapers.
County Healthcare Districts Launch Collaborative Group
In an unprecedented move that illustrates the growing importance of collaboration, Plumas District Hospital, Eastern Plumas Health Care District and Seneca District Hospital have joined together to improve health services across Plumas and Sierra Counties. The new alliance, called the Northern Sierra Collaborative Health Network (NSCHN), also includes the Plumas County Public Health Agency and Sierra County Health and Human Services, and Sierra Institute, which is co-facilitating the new group with Plumas county Public Health Agency.
The leaders of the health care districts understand that networking and collaboration can improve health services and may be critical to their long-term sustainability. Tom Hayes of Eastern Plumas Health Care District said, “Rural hospitals face unique challenges and the key to our long-term success will be increased collaboration with our neighbors. There are many benefits to greater cooperation, and I think the time is right for us to start making meaningful progress towards this goal.”
The three health care districts have not formally collaborated to this extent in the past; however, top administrators from each organization have committed to regular collaborative meetings to identify priorities and projects to advance joint work. The group began meeting in September 2010 to initiate discussion about cooperative programs and funding opportunities. By October 2010, it submitted a Network Planning grant to the US Department of Health and Human Services, which would provide grant funds to support the development of joint planning activities and help these plans become operational.
The NSCHN is dedicated to strengthening a community-wide system of primary health care services available to all residents. One of the first group projects is a community health assessment to examine how the districts are serving their communities. The assessment will involved key public stakeholders and private partners.
A key NSCHN goal is to invest in local primary care and take responsibility for healing local ailing health systems. Taxpayers and hospitals bear the brunt of unnecessary costs for untreated health conditions. Coordination and collaborations can simultaneously reduce costs and improve health care services. Improving quality and reducing costs through prevention and primary care are essential parts of this local effort.
The group is currently exploring opportunities for joint staffing, including physician recruitment and retention, and working to advance projects focused on electronic health records and telehealth specialty care services.
Plumas County Public Health Agency Director Mimi Hall said, “we need to take bold steps to coordinate care, improve quality, and contain costs. We can improve health outcomes while demonstrating quantifiable savings by investing in a collaborative, patient-centered approach.”
NSCHN members feel the proposed project is a needed, innovative way to meet the unique health care needs of Plumas and Sierra residents. Jonathan Kusel, Executive Director of the Sierra Institute, said, “The partnership is an investment int he community, and a healthier community is a stronger, more prosperous one.”
All agree that the Northern Sierra Collaborative Health Network holds the potential for paving hte way to identify other creative solutions to better meet the unique needs of Plumas and Sierra residents today and into the future.