Blue Zones Project Bulletin – 4-23-20

In the rapidly changing and often confusing time of COVID-19, Sharecare and Blue Zones Project have had the opportunity to witness how individuals, organizations and communities are working together to help address the fallout of this virus. One of the most dynamic and active organizations that we have observed is the Pisgah Health Foundation (PHF), a public 501 (c)(3) charity that was founded in 2019 by a board of seven individuals. Their focus wa, and remains on improving the health, wellness, and lives of Western North Carolina residents by targeting underlying social determinants related to health, food insecurity, housing, social cohesion, and education. The organization evolved from the Transylvania Regional Hospital Foundation and serves five counties in Western North Carolina.

Long before COVID-19, Lex Green, President of PHF, introduced the concept of Blue Zones Project to his board in the spring of 2019. He was convinced that Blue Zones Project and its parent organization, Sharecare, Inc. were perfect collaborators to help accomplish PHF’s mission to target social determinants. In August 2019, following months of due diligence by PHF and Sharecare, Brevard, North Carolina was identified as the 50th Blue Zone Project community in North America and the first in the Carolinas. Significantly, the Pisgah Health Foundation board members understood and valued the significance of Blue Zones Project and ways to provide evidence-based, metric-driven processes to help citizens make healthier choices through the built environment, food and nutrition options, and where individuals work, play, and live.

At about the same time the local Blue Zones Project team was literally ordering furniture for its new office in downtown Brevard, the first hints of a new virus in China were circulating. Fast forward to mid-March 2020 and the entire world was held captive by COVID-19 with mandatory shelter-in-place orders to “flatten the curve” to lessen the strain on hospitals and emergency service providers. Like other communities around the world, non-essential workers in Brevard and across North Carolina were told not to come back to work. Businesses shuttered, schools closed, and even recreation areas were closed.

In this time of crisis (health and economic), Sharecare and Blue Zones Project want to highlight the Pisgah Health Foundation leadership and board members for the many decisive actions they have taken to support not only Brevard, but other communities within their footprint.

  • Created a Physicians Round Table consisting of over 45 practicing and retired physicians who meet twice a week by Zoom to discuss specific ways that Pisgah Health Foundation can leverage its resources regarding COVID-19.
  • Led by Dr. Rik Emaus, a retired physician and Blue Zones Project steering committee member, a team of doctors is working with the Transylvania County Health Department, the Brevard Rotary Club and others to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the senior centers by providing needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources to help keep this vulnerable population healthy and out of the hospital.
  • Created a COVID-19 Rapid Response grant fund to assist non-profits needing financial funds to maintain or increase their capacity to support local social service needs. Within the past three weeks, the Board has awarded one million dollars in grant assistance. Of this amount, the Foundation has already deployed $322,500 to assist local non-profits focused on COVID-19 activities. Reducing food insecurity for those in need as well as working with the County and other non-profits to find safe locations to house homeless individuals who are either infected by COVID-19 or are symptomatic are two examples.
  • Worked with local business owners and manufacturers to either source or manufacture items such as face shields and hand sanitizer that can be used by local physicians, senior centers and others interacting with the public.

Michael Acker, SVP Blue Zones Project, reflects, “The Blue Zones Project framework is a proven model for organizing decisive and efficient community engagement. We are encouraged to see this type of innovation and collaboration, which will ultimately create more resilient communities across North America.”

by: Dr. Allen Weiss, Chief Medical Officer – Blue Zones Project and Mark Burrows, Sr. Community Program Manager – Blue Zones Project Brevard

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