Imagine if we had the ability to elevate North Carolina to become the healthiest state in America. We could enhance people’s lives, eliminate suffering, and make our state truly able to claim to the honor of being the best place to live, work, and play. North Carolina would also be the best place to build and maintain a business, because our workforce would be well educated, healthy, and less expensive to insure. Our economy would be robust and our tax base secure. While it seems perhaps too good to be true, the reality is that such a vision is possible to achieve within the decade.

Yes, by 2030 North Carolina has the opportunity to become the healthiest state in America. But, it will take something we have never achieved on scale, which is an alignment of public and private sectors, individuals and communities, and people from different backgrounds who have not always seen eye-to-eye. Fortunately, we now have a source of information that makes factual alignment possible. The other parts are up to each of us.

While most people have been solidly and reasonably focused on surviving a global pandemic, during the last year something truly remarkable has emerged. The most powerful alignment tool for improving the health of North Carolinians in state history has been created through collaboration between Cape Fear Collective, Novant Health, Community Care of North Carolina, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, and Datawheel. Based on the 10 year state health plan Healthy NC 2030, the Healthy Communities Dashboard is now live online for all 100 counties in North Carolina. In many cases, it is possible to view the information at census block level and download the source data
for use in grant applications, subset analysis, and tracking of community-based interventions.

As a native North Carolinian and physician leader, it is hard for me to describe how excited I am to be part of developing a tool which gives free access to data-derived insights on the key factors underlying health. But I am even more excited that this information is readily available to everyone. For the first time ever, anyone with internet access will be able to see and use actionable information about health that is derived from 1300+ community metrics. Also for the first time ever, any organization intending to have a positive impact on health is enabled to use a common language based on evidence to elevate the health of people they serve. Putting all these things together,
we have the opportunity to make North Carolina the healthiest state in America, which will be incredibly important to us if we intend to keep our recent status as America’s Top State for Business.

So the real question is, where do we need improvement and who among all the sectors will be willing to step up to help make the lift? Let’s explore this with a few questions:

Do we have the need to improve job training in order to make our citizens better candidates for all the new job opportunities in North Carolina?

Are there opportunities to improve our education system?

Would we benefit from addressing the housing crisis that plagues many of our communities?

Would neighborhood revitalization that provided more people with safe places to exercise and connect be helpful to communities and attractive to businesses?

How do we best eliminate the problem of food insecurity among children and the elderly?

What can we do to better understand and respond to the impending mental health crisis?

Of course this short list of questions is only a fraction of what’s available to be analyzed through the Healthy Communities NC Dashboard. But the most imposing question that remains in my mind is, will we be able to align enough stakeholders working together to take action on these powerful insights? I am optimistic, and I hope you are too. It will take many of us working humbly and nobly together to make this vision our new reality, but it is possible. Creating the future is up to us.