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For Immediate Release:  Ithaca, NY:   Over the next year, the Central and Western regions of Upstate New York will receive funding to work together to increase community members’ health literacy.  Health literacy - a person’s capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand health information and services in order to make safe and beneficial health decisions - has been found to be a significant way to decrease healthcare costs and hospitalizations.  During a pandemic (like covid-19), health literacy plays a key part in the promotion, enhancement and encouragement of protective health behaviors.  Sue Ellen Stuart, Executive Director of the Visiting Nurse Services of Ithaca and the grant lead and fiduciary agent, says, “With covid-19, increasing health literacy throughout our communities is needed now more than ever.  It’s what helps patients understand the risks of the virus and the protocols needed to fight it.”

The health literacy grant is part of a Call to Action (CTA) that the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York (HFWCNY) made to the members of its Fellows Action Network (FAN) in 2019.   The FAN is a network of health and healthcare leaders across both Western and Central New York who have completed the Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows training program and is a way to promote the Foundation’s vision of the improving health care for older adults and young children impacted by poverty.  The two CNY organizations, Visiting Nurses Service (VNS) of Ithaca along with Healthy Communities Consulting (HCC) LLC, submitted one of nine CTA proposals from the Foundation’s Fellows’ network. 

The Call to Action specifically charged network members to address the barriers to improving the health of their communities.  An impediment to improving health literacy has focused solely on the patient and ignored the impact healthcare providers have on improving a patient’s health literacy.  To address this, the health literacy grant will provide a Health Literacy Train the Trainers program by expanding  the lens of health literacy beyond the individual and addressing the pedagogy or the delivery of health information to the public by healthcare professionals.  The program will consist of a select cohort of professionals from both Western and Central NY who will participate in a one-year program that will prepare participants to provide health literacy training for their organizations and communities with an emphasis on strategies to improve health communication individually, organizationally and systematically.  

“The Health Foundation is pleased to support this innovative approach to improving health literacy,” said Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD, president of the Health Foundation. “Addressing these issues at a systems and organizational level, and including health care professionals in both central and western New York, will help ensure this project has a wide-ranging, comprehensive impact on both care providers and the people they serve. This initiative is a prime example of how the Health Leadership Fellows program can cultivate new partnerships and collaborations with the goal of improving the health of our community.”  

FAN collaborations generally happen in either the western or central region but not both, says Alis Sefick of Healthy Communities Consulting LLC, “The Foundation was particularly interested in how our proposal was unique in that it offered a cross-regional collaboration”.  The 3-day training program is slated to be held in March 2021.  In addition to the Train the Trainers program, the grant also provides funding for a cross-regional health literacy conference, slated for the fall of 2021. 

While VNS and HCC were the lead Fellow organizations on the grant proposal, to carry out the terms of the grant, the two will be working with other FAN member organizations as well as non-FAN member organizations.  The Gerontology Institute at Ithaca College and Karen Brown Consulting of Ithaca, NY contributed greatly to this CTA proposal.  Karen Brown, a Fellow of the Tufts School of Medicine Health Literacy Leadership Institute, will provide the Train the Trainer training.   FAN members interested in applying for the training can send an email of interest to Healthy Communities Consulting LLC at

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