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CACTC Becomes The Rural Health Institute

CACTC has always done public health work

Cortland Area Communities That Care (CACTC) is announcing our formal adoption of the Public Health Institute model to better reflect our current work. In line with that change, we are announcing a new agency name: The Rural Health Institute of New York (RHI).

CACTC is an independent nonprofit organization that equips communities with insights and strategies to enable them to improve the health of people and families. Evolving from roots as a youth prevention coalition in the early 2000s, we have expanded to focus on using local data to identify and fill gaps with community partners. Over the last two decades, CACTC has grown beyond simply being a youth substance use prevention coalition to being a more community-driven public health agency with experience in serving rural communities. For several years now, our work has aligned with the public health institute (PHI) model. We think it's time to formally recognize the transition our agency has undergone.

We always understood our prevention work as an element of public health practice. Public health focuses on population- or community-level health, encouraging healthier behaviors and environments, reducing risks inherent in everyday activities, and proactively attending to “upstream” factors like social determinants of health.

CACTC’s work already aligns with the Public Health Institute Model

On Monday, October 2nd, we held a video conference to announce our transition to the PHI model and our new name. You can watch the recording below, where we were joined by partners from across the state and from throughout our agency’s history. Joe Cortese, Chair of the CACTC Board of Directors, spoke about the work that agency staff have put in over the years to build our expertise. Assemblymember Anna Kelles spoke about the important differences between rural and urban public health work, as well as the importance of data for implementing and assessing public health interventions. Gen Meredith, PhD, Associate Director of the Cornell University MPH program, spoke about some of the unique challenges of doing public health research and practice in rural settings, and the importance of strong, complementary relationships across sectors. Jessica Collins, Executive Director of the Western Massachusetts Public Health Institute spoke about her experience building a small, rural-focused PHI in a state that already had one, highlighting ways for PHIs to work together within a state. And CACTC Executive Director Matt Whitman spoke, discussing the main elements of the PHI model, and what this means for the future of our agency and our work.

Public Health Institutes (PHIs) are non-profit organizations that take a specific approach to improving public health through innovative, collaborative, data-driven work. They are dedicated to advancing public health practice–not just research or theory–and making systematic improvements in population health.

  • They center their work on applying research and data to real world problems

  • They work quickly and flexibly, finding new opportunities and solutions

  • They collect and analyze data about their solutions to understand how to improve on future iterations

  • They work with state and local governments, service providers, non-profits, businesses, and community members

  • They leverage the strengths of their partners to maximize impact

PHIs support partners from a wide range of sectors–including government, CBOs, healthcare providers and systems, academia, and media–to improve population health outcomes by augmenting those partners’ capacity with coordination, research, data, and other expertise.

There is a National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) that provides support, standards, and relationships to make each PHI as effective as possible. As we become the Rural Health Institute of New York, we have been working with the NNPHI to become a member and work with the existing members in New York to ensure that we complement the work they’re already doing. Our conversations with the National Network, the other New York members of the NNPHI, and other small public health institutes have all emphasized for us the need for a focus on rural public health. This is especially visible in a state like New York, with such a concentrated urban center in NYC.

The future of the Rural Health Institute of New York

Our vision for the future of CACTC as a public health institute expands on what we already do well: helping rural communities improve data environments to support improved population-level health through evidence-based practices. Our work has aligned with the public health institute model for years now. Using that language and framing our work as public health practice will help better communicate to partners how we can support them.

From our beginning as a prevention coalition, we have centered a data-driven decision making process in all areas of our work. As both CACTC and the Rural Health Institute, we have three core areas of expertise that we use to help bolster our partners' capacity to support the community:

  • Data and Epidemiology, which includes contracted data collection and analysis, improved data literacy and infrastructure, administration and analysis of the Cortland County Youth Survey, and project evaluation/assessment

  • Administration and Collaborative Leadership, which includes building and facilitating coalitions, writing and managing grants with partners, and facilitating trainings

  • Public Health Communication, which includes graphic design, marketing strategy, and evidence-based messaging

We know that service providers and local governments have limited capacity. We see our role as helping to expand that capacity, either through formal partnerships where we contract to apply our skills and expertise or through more informal partnerships where we facilitate conversations or relationships. Of course, when we formally change our name to the Rural Health Institute, our own capacity won’t expand to cover the whole of rural New York immediately. However, we have been working to build relationships with important players across the state to better position us to collaborate and grow, including the other PHIs, Cornell University, Ithaca College, the New York State Association for Rural Health, Assemblymember Anna Kelles, Senator Lea Webb, and the NYS Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS).

The transition of CACTC into the Rural Health Institute of New York (RHI) marks a significant milestone in our organization's journey. Our decision to adopt the PHI model and embrace the name RHI reflects our commitment to the principles of public health practice. The PHI model resonates with our mission as it emphasizes data-driven solutions, flexibility, rapid response to emerging issues, and collaboration with diverse stakeholders. We are proud to align our work with the PHI model, which emphasizes the importance of applying research and data to real-world problems, fostering partnerships, and maximizing the strengths of our collaborators to make a lasting impact on population health. As we embark on this new chapter as the Rural Health Institute of New York, we are excited about the opportunities for growth and impact that lie ahead.

You can also always read more about our work and our history on our website. We also have specific portals set up for partners to access our Data & Epidemiology resources and our Health Communications resources. If you'd like to be added to our newsletter list to get updates on our transition, you can sign up here. We'll also keep this section of our website up-to-date as we go.

As our Executive Director, Matt Whitman, said at the end of our virtual announcement, “We will continue to do a lot of the work that we’ve always done. This won’t materially change any of our current partnerships. We also see this as an opportunity to invite you to work with us more. We invite you to be part of our development as the Rural Health Institute and forge those new partnerships as we move forward. This is something we’ve been working toward for a very long time–I feel like I’ve been working on it since I started at CACTC, I just didn’t know what it would eventually become. This is the culmination of the hard work of our staff, our board, and all the individuals that have been involved with our organization over the last 20 years.”

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