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Durham County Climbs In Health Rankings

Orange County ranked the healthiest in North Carolina according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.
Orange County ranked the healthiest in North Carolina according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.

Orange County is North Carolina's Healthiest County according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin. The study evaluates every county in America based on factors like premature death, child poverty and crime. The report listed Wake County as the state's second healthiest.

Mel Downey-Piper of Durham County's Public Health Department notes Durham County moved up from its position as 17th last year to 11th place this year.

"And that's significant to us because as a community, we've really been working for many years, coming together to address some of Durham's biggest needs," Downey-Piper says. "And Durham is unique because we're one of the first communities that have really embraced working on things that aren't really seen as health issues. So things like, poverty, education, where people live... All of that really influences people's health."

Downey-Piper says cross-organizational collaborations have made all the difference. For example, The Partnership for a Healthy Durham gathers 500 members from different organizations to work together. The partnerships aims to take experts and agencies out of their own silos to collaborate. Made In Durham works to connect people with internships and job training to prepare them for jobs with local companies.

Collaborations have lightened some of the challenges to health, like poverty and nutrition, Downey-Piper says. To combat obesity and food deserts, Durham arranged for the Durham Farmers' Market and South Durham Farmers' Market to accept SNAP benefits, or food stamps. Bus routes now stop by the market so it is easier for people to get there.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded Durham County a $25,000 award for its innovative community action. Mel Downey-Piper  says the county will redistribute the award money into mini-grants.

"The purpose is that groups need to partner and it can't just be one individual or one agency, but really working together to figure out how to move things forward an really looking at evidence based models that are most likely to work," Downey-Piper says.

Durham County's Public Health Department  is looking for projects that address, obesity, poverty, mental health and substance abuse.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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