How community partnerships can improve injury prevention efficiency and effectiveness

As trauma centers approach their directive to conduct injury prevention in their communities, a question arises: What is the best way to fulfill that task? Kimberly (Kim) J. Lombard, Mayo Clinic Trauma Center injury prevention coordinator, explains in this interview about a means to accomplish this outreach — community partnerships — and shares some advice about how to make community partnerships work.

What is an injury prevention community partnership?

Community partnerships involve a process through which people, groups and organizations work together to achieve desired results.

If our trauma center is busy already with its own injury prevention efforts, why add on more work to form community partnerships?

Ultimately, I'd say you can't afford not to spend the time needed to organize community partnerships. You can try to reach a community alone, but individually it's hard to do. It takes money, resources and collective action toward a goal to see change. Combining resources with other organizations with similar goals is a wise way to go.

It just doesn't make sense to work in silos. We can accomplish so much more together.

How do injury prevention partnerships benefit trauma centers and communities?

A partnership benefits every group; the greatest benefit is the collective action I mentioned. It's also good to have supportive community colleagues to share ideas, brainstorm and plan strategically around tough issues. Planning with partners helps so that people are on the same page, versus the fire department and the city each doing its own thing, for example.

Another benefit I touched on is combining resources. Some groups have access to resources, such as news media, while other groups don't.

The community benefits from the chance to be part of making a difference in injury prevention and also from the results possible from the partnering of organizations.

How do you organize a community partnership? Where do you start?

First, look for community groups or individuals with similar interests who're already doing prevention work on the issue you're targeting. Do some digging, searching online for what other groups are doing and gaps that a partnership could fill. Use keywords such as "gun violence" or "distracted driving," along with your community's name.

You don't need to start with 10 agencies. Reach out to your local public health department. It can just be that group and your trauma center to start. As soon as you gain momentum, others will come to you to help and be a part of it.

Also, reach out to fire and police departments, and the public safety agency in your area.

It's honestly a simple thing to go out, set up a few meetings and introduce yourself to folks. You want to approach it with the mindset of the groups combining resources to maximize the reach and have more resources and staff working on the issue.

Internally, you may find interested parties, but they may not have time available — not that they don't want to help, but it may not be their focus. I've found great success going to the community.

An effective partnership also would involve community members. It's unwise to go into a plan without getting input from them first. They might have a very different viewpoint and may have resources that others don't.

What barriers should we expect with organizing community partnerships? What do you suggest for overcoming them?

Here are some barriers you'll likely see, along with some ideas for dealing with them:

Politics

If issues arise such as heated discussion, manipulation or power wrangling, it's important to realize you don't have control over others' organizations. Usually you have to keep pushing through. Sometimes you just have to get the right people at the table to navigate the politics, perhaps organizational directors.

Lengthy process

You may have to accept a long time span as part of the process, as true culture change can take up to a decade.

Lack of others with similar interests

If you can't find others working on your issue, it may be time to re-evaluate the direction.

Distance between partners

Although it may be hard to gather partners in rural regions spanning large distances, technology is a resource for online meetings and conferences.

It seems like there would be countless possible strategies that injury prevention community partnerships could use. Given limited time, which would be best to emphasize?

That's correct: There are many strategies to potentially use. In the Toward Zero Deaths program, for example, every single county uses different strategies. Tailor the strategy to your community. For example, there are more motorcycle crashes in some communities, so that issue would get more attention there.

Overall, I'd suggest focusing on community education and enforcement. For trauma centers, specifically, I'd advocate providing community education aimed at changing behavior and culture. While we're providing community education, the sheriff and police departments can be out there monitoring and enforcing. As an injury prevention coordinator at a medical center, I can't do that, but they can cover that part of the strategy.

For strategies to educate the professionals in the partnership, I'd suggest conferences where a large number of stakeholders are already present.

Any other suggestions?

Remember, a community needs education about a problem before you offer solutions. It may not even know, for example, that texting and driving is happening.

For more information

Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths.