Five Community Health Questions with Julie Shepard

Julie discusses her work in Community Health Innovation for Blessing Health System.
Jarrod Lowery

Jarrod Lowery

Jarrod is a Strategy Consultant and Business Designer at Do Tank

Julie is the Administrative Coordinator of Community Health Innovation at Blessing Health System–a mid-size health system serving western Illinois as well as parts of Missouri and Iowa. In her role, she works with various community partners and plays the key role in applying for grant opportunities that can benefit the health system and its patients. We spoke with Julie to hear about her work and how she is applying innovation methods to take it to the next level.

What have been some recent, exciting grant opportunities?

We’ve had several grant opportunities that have been interesting to work on. One recent grant we applied for would expand our telehealth equipment and opportunities to connect with the community. Our challenges with telehealth are just growing the opportunities and educating the community members about what’s available—and how easy it is to access. Some of these grant opportunities will really help us fill in those gaps, as far as providing more equipment so more providers can participate. The focus has really been on the rural communities, helping people eliminate the need to travel and take off work, so it’s more convenient for them to access the health care.

What have community partnerships looked like in the past, and where are they headed?

I think organizations in Adams County have done a great job of collaborating together. I’m part of a group that has led the community needs assessment; it provides the structure for a lot of the community partnerships. The committee consists of various community leaders, and we really focus on looking at community data, setting priorities, and then forming different groups to address those priorities. We really strive to include a lot of different community members. Now, post-COVID, we’re getting back to our original priorities around physical activity, nutrition, wellness, and access to care.

What opportunities do you see for innovation in this space?

One of the things that we’ve been doing with our grant-writing is using the innovation tools and the canvases to help us do the project planning. So that’s been really exciting—an effective way to get a lot of people around the table planning the project, getting a lot of work done in a short amount of time, and then giving me the information I need to structure the grant proposal.

What are partnerships like within Blessing?

We really try to focus on what the priorities are and what the needs are, while pulling in the right people. I think that’s an important part of my role—to be the liaison between the community groups and people within Blessing and get the right people around the table. As one example, I was just working with the cancer center on a grant that they were pursuing. In that conversation, we talked about oral cancer. So, I connected the cancer center with some local dentists, and they planned screening to be done out in the community, in hopes of identifying people who have signs of developing oral cancer. That’s one example of how partnerships can create a great program for the community.

What should folks know about community partnerships or how they can be involved?

It’s just important to reach out. If someone has an area of interest or something that’s come up in their everyday work that they’re wondering about, let’s discuss it. There usually is some group in the community working on areas that we are working on as well, so definitely reach out about things that you’re interested in or that you would like to do and find ways to get connected to these people and projects.