In this interview, Kristen Westmoreland discusses her experience working in prevention as Co-coordinator of the East Bay Regional Task Force.
You have worked in prevention at a few different levels. How has your role and your work changed with regionalization? How do the regions work together on prevention efforts?
Regionalization allows us to be more strategic. We have always said,” Substance use problems don’t stop at the town borders.” How could you do prevention work isolated within a town? From that standpoint, it is a very positive thing to be able to expand our lens and look at the region and the state as a whole.
In part, we are able to do this because we are fortunate to have a very collegial group of regional directors. We meet monthly to collaborate our efforts, consolidate our funds, and look at things from a statewide perspective. We work to share our products and resources. These types of collaborative efforts are really valuable.
You have an MD and an MPH. How do you reconcile those two distinct perspectives on health?
My role within this job always requires me to view things from a population basis. My MD perspective provides me with a clinical lens that is acutely aware of the individuals that make up a population. I do not forget the individuals who are being affected. I tend to flip back and forth between these perspectives and try to see things through both lenses.
Can you speak to some of the primary initiatives in the East Bay Region?
In terms of our strategic planning, the problems we are aiming to address are alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and opioids. We also have arms of our plan that address stress and anxiety— specifically as they relate to suicide— as well as capacity building, sustainability, and data collection. These are our main foci.
In terms of data collection, we recently regionalized a survey for parents that we completed in Barrington, so we are now collecting data on parents from all of our municipalities. This has been helpful because parent data is somewhat missing from state data, and since most of our initiatives are focused on students or parents, it is helpful to have data from parents. For student data, we have all four of our communities participating in the Rhode Island Student Survey, and each community has achieved at least 60% participation with most communities achieving at least 80% participation.
To address stress and anxiety we are working to increase connectedness among middle school youth. We have an event at the Bayside YMCA called Superpower Saturdays which provides an environment for middle school students from all four communities to come together. Not only does this event connect those students to one another, but we have also introduced a community service component so that we can connect them to the rest of the region. For instance, we once did a project where the students created senior care bags, took them to senior centers in the area, and did a presentation about keeping opioids safe. This project allowed the students to interact with the seniors through a service project, and in turn, to feel more connected to the community.
As a Regional Director, how do you promote collaboration between community coalitions?
We started, early on, meeting monthly with municipal coordinators to share ideas and support one another. We also stay connected by email and we promote municipal idea sharing. Sharing by promoting successes is the ultimate sign of a success. Efforts are region-wide, and we could not be successful in our work without communication and collaboration. Additionally, we are working on initiatives such as a region-wide fundraiser which required municipal coalition members to come together with the regional coalition members to encourage further collaboration.
Do you feel there are unexplored opportunities for collaboration?
I think there is probably some duplication of effort between Health Equity Zones and the regional and municipal coalitions, so there are likely opportunities to collaborate further to reduce duplication of effort. Another collaborative opportunity we would love to explore would be collective statewide media buys. We have done some of these buys before, but it is difficult to measure their impact. If we had a larger pool of funding, we could do more to measure the effects of these buys. We hope to have the opportunity to do so.
How does the regional model promote collaboration between municipalities and coalitions?
Many of the coalitions depend on regional funding exclusively, so we have tried to balance the funding to allow spending on some larger regional and state strategies, while also providing funding to the municipalities so that they can retain their identities and local strategies. If we did not balance the funding in this way, it would be more likely that the municipalities would stay in their silos so to speak. Because this balance is a priority, the individual identities of municipalities are respected and supported. We hope that by supporting the individuality of these groups, we are creating greater opportunity for collaboration. We are all competing for the same pool of money outside of the regional dollars, so collaboration is key.
If you can highlight one East Bay coalition success, what would it be? And what do you attribute to that success?
I think Superpower Saturdays and the data collection that we have completed are important successes, but I would highlight that we have been quite successful with the East Providence Prevention Coalition.
When we started regionally, the East Providence Prevention Coalition had no funding or coordinator, and was struggling. However, they did have a very committed group of volunteers. We worked with these volunteers to help them stabilize and we were eventually able to bring in a coordinator. It is quite challenging for a city of that size to do prevention work with so little money, but I think our perseverance and the volunteers’ commitment allowed the coalition to stay afloat. This could have easily been a community that decided they did not have enough time to maintain this coalition, but instead, they worked with us to create a rapidly growing coalition, and that has been a wonderful success for our region.
What are some personal successes that you have experienced as a result of the work that you have been doing?
I would say that having been recognized along with my co-coordinator for previous work and chosen as one of the regional coordinators has been a personal success. This has opened doors for us in terms of meetings we are able to attend and engagement in conversations at the state level. As the regional directors, we are seen as the go-to people which has been interesting and very different from when we were 39 different municipal coordinators.
From a data standpoint I am especially proud of the BAY Team’s Got Outcomes! Award from CADCA, which we received in 2015. A lot of work went into that application and it recognized our approach to this work from a very data-driven focus.
I also feel that we have done a good job of bringing in youth mentees from around Rhode Island. Mentorship opportunities are very important, and this is something that we have been able to do quite successfully in our office.