Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Selects Fort Smith for Community Health Coach Program

July 15, 2016
The Fort Smith community is about to learn what’s standing in the way of better health and how to make improvements to the community’s health as a whole.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has selected the Fort Smith Community Health Council for its Roadmaps to Health coaching program. The selection means the health council been assigned a community health coach, Ericka Burroughs-Girardi, who will assist the council during a 12-month engagement in 2016 and 2017.

The Roadmaps to Health coaching program provides local leaders with direct support from community coaches to build a culture of health in their communities.  The coaching program is part of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. 

Burroughs-Girardi’s role is to provide strategic guidance to communities. She has coached community-based organizations, local governments, and community health planning groups in the principles of community engagement and collective impact, health policy advocacy, and health equity. She holds master’s degree applied anthropology and public health.

The rankings provide a revealing snapshot of how place matters to health and is a starting point for change in communities. They’re based on the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work, and play.  Coaches bring expertise from a variety of disciplines  –  from public health to law to social work to community planning to hospital community benefits  –  and support leaders in using tools the foundation provides to advance community health.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests a simple and straightforward process to guide communities from data to action. Using tools from the foundation, the Fort Smith Community Health Council will gather information, set priorities, find the most effective approaches, act on what’s important and evaluate those actions.

The Fort Smith Community Health Council formed in August after Mercy Fort Smith invited key human service agencies, educators, faith leaders and others to convene for a discussion of community health. These early meetings resulted in the beginning of a partnership whose first goal was to apply to the coaching program.

Members of the Fort Smith Community Health Council advisory team are: Jo Wester, director of the Sebastian County Health Department;  John McIntosh, executive director of 64.6 Downtown; Norma Nelson, coordinator of Valor Y Esperanza, Mercy Fort Smith; Martin Schreiber, vice president of mission,  Mercy Fort Smith;  Samantha Cole, director of community health, Mercy Fort Smith; Pat Morris, medical librarian, Mercy Fort Smith; and Cristelyn Roebuck, coordinator of community health, Mercy Fort Smith. 

Overall, the group represents 42 community organizations.

Mercy Board Member Mike Barr, board liaison to the health council, said the council is excited to partner with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

“It is vital for the future of our community to convene a group of committed individuals with the task of making a health impact on our community. We are enabling the voice of those in need in our community to be heard,” he said. “The selection into the ‘Roadmaps to Health’ program will enable us to improve our reach into our communities and focus on providing pathways to healthier lives.”

Mercy Fort Smith facilitated forming the health council to involve the entire community in the effort to improve individuals’ health. Mercy leaders knew there were many talented people and dedicated organizations already working to light the path to a healthier community.  Mercy seeks for its next Roadmap “to be filled with light” because of the health improvements being made, said Schreiber.

The  effort to establish the health council speaks to Mercy’s mission: “As the Sisters of Mercy before us, we bring to light the healing ministry of Jesus through our compassionate care and exceptional service.”

More information on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps can be found at its website: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health.


Ericka Burroughs-Girardi

Ericka Burroughs-Girardi

Media Contacts