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Township Embarks On Study Of Residents’ Health And Health Equity

Tara Kenyon, the township’s Open Space Consultant, describes the grant program to the Open Space Advisory Committee at its April 19 meeting.

The Township is about to embark on a year-long study of data from a variety of sources to identify the main health and health equity issues facing residents.

Assisting the Township will be Sustainable Jersey, which has awarded Franklin a “technical assistance” grant to complete the study, formally known as a Local Health Assessment and Action Plan.

The grant does not have a financial element; it consists solely of providing information and helping township officials make sense of that information.

Tara Kenyon, the township’s Open Space consultant, has been making the rounds of the committees and commissions which she advises to tell them of the grant, the only one awarded in the state this year.

Kenyon prepared the grant application with Saffie Kallon, the township’s Special Projects Manager.

The latest group to hear of the grant was the township’s Open Space Advisory Committee, at its April 19 meeting.

The program, Kenyon said, will allow the township to “look at health data across the township and allows us to overlay it with zoning data and other types of transportation and planning data to really try to look and see are there health disparities in certain parts of the township, and can we attribute that to people that have less access to open space or farms or live by industrial areas.”

“We’ll get a lot of health data from Sustainable Jersey as well as their expertise to help mine that, and then we’re able to put together a local health assessment that will allow us to look at where the vulnerable population is, what kind of differences are we seeing and how can we mitigate that through planning and zoning, environmental justice, that’s sort of the goal of the whole thing,” she said.

Kenyon said a steering committee is now being formed. She said the committee will be comprised of people from various commissions and committees in the township, as well as Advisory Board of Health members and the Township Council.

“They recommend having people from Robert Wood Johnson hospitals, our county board of health, to help us make these decisions,” she said.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker told the committee that the study will result in a “pretty robust data collection that will … help us in a lot of different ways.”

“It just doesn’t have an environmental aspect to it, it has a lot of arms,” he said.

Kenyon said the data collectors will have to go to locations throughout the township during the study period.

Sustainable Jersey is a Lawrenceville-based non-profit whose mission is to “Empower New Jersey communities to build a better world for future generations with the tools, training and financial incentives necessary to pursue critical sustainability initiatives.”

The organization offers two levels of certification for towns, dependent upon a number of criteria relating to environmental issues. Franklin currently holds the group’s silver certification, which is the highest a town can achieve.

The group also offers a series of “gold star” programs for towns. The local health assessment program is one of the gold star programs.

The health assessment is designed to “engage key leaders and the community in designing a blueprint of needs and action steps specific to the municipality to address the conditions that impact how long and how well community members live,” according to the program’s application brochure.

After the data is collected, the town is expected to hold a public meeting so residents can add their input.

“Municipalities will then identify strategies to address the conditions identified in the Local Health Assessment and create an action plan consisting of Sustainable Jersey Health Gold actions and any other locally appropriate, innovative, evidence based strategies, which will then be shared with the public for input,” according to the brochure.

“The Local Health Assessment & Action Plan is a first step to achieve the Gold Star Standard in Health and is intended to serve as a catalyst for a wider discussion on the health and well-being of the community,” the brochure reads.

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