Engaging With Community Partners To Address Priority Health Needs – No Matter the Location

Vickie Eaton Johnson, who was named Cleveland Clinic’s first Chief Community Officer in May, cares deeply about the Cleveland community because it is truly her home. For 30 years, Johnson has lived in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland and for 17 years, she has worked in the Fairfax community where Cleveland Clinic’s main campus is located.  

Community work has been Johnson’s focus throughout her professional career. Prior to her role as Chief Community Officer, Johnson led local efforts as senior director of Cleveland Clinic’s Government and Community Relations department. Before joining the health system, Johnson was executive director of the Fairfax Development Corporation.  

In her current role, Johnson will lead strategic community planning at all Cleveland Clinic locations both nationally and internationally, while continuing to collaborate with local institutions, government agencies, elected leaders and healthcare professionals.  

“We engage with communities by listening to their needs and prioritizing,” Johnson said. “We conduct community health needs assessments, and we work with local governments, public health agencies and members of the community.”  

According to Johnson, the most prevalent issues in local communities are also national and global issues. “Some of these issues are food insecurity, childhood hunger, infant/maternal health and lead poisoning,” she said. “They are issues in Cleveland and around the country. The fact that we have named them our priorities allows us to have a global impact in the work we do.”  

Tackling these issues will take a community effort, Johnson said. “We need to partner with others in the community who care about these issues because none of this work can be done alone.  

“One really concrete example is that we have made our first investment in Lead-Safe Cleveland,” Johnson said. “In less than seven months, we know that more than 200 of Cleveland’s children are now living in lead-safe housing. That is real impact.”   

Johnson also cites work in the areas of infant and maternal health. “We know that Black and brown women who are pregnant are at an increased risk of morbidity and mortality compared to pregnant white women,” she said. “We are obligated and committed to address those disparities, working with others to help make a difference.”  

Cleveland Clinic has established a Center for Infant and Maternal Health that targets health equity. “We’ve hired community health workers,” Johnson said. “These are fantastic women who primarily live in the community and have been trained and certified. They collaborate with patients to identify and resolve issues that affect their health and wellbeing, such as food insecurity, affordable housing, employment opportunities and transportation for medical care.”  

Community health workers provide support through the woman’s pregnancy and the baby’s first year.  

An emerging community need is that of mental health issues, according to Johnson.  

“For a long time in the Black and brown communities, we’ve turned to the church to address mental health,” she said. “I think now we’re at a place where we are ready to talk about the issues more openly.  

“We’ve partnered with our clinical experts and teamed them up with community leaders to have these conversations in very trusting environments,” Johnson said. “We incorporate mental health conversations in everything we do. It can be at a job fair or a health event. We’re there partnering with residents, listening to them.”  

Johnson said she is excited and optimistic about the future.  

“Everywhere we are, we have the same conversations with community members,” Johnson said. “We partner with the same levels of government and non-profit agencies to address the local issues because community is important.”

Recently, Johnson sat down with Tom Mihaljevic, M.D., CEO and President, and holder of the Martin L. Mandel CEO Chair, for an update on her new role and the work being done. You can watch highlights from that conversation below.

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