Governmental Public Health Agencies to Partner with National Nonprofits to Build Culture of Health

ATLANTA — Based on an unprecedented increase in public health funding and an extraordinary focus on the health equity divide during the COVID-19 pandemic, governmental public health and its partners have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to amplify a vision for vibrant communities where everyone can lead their healthiest life. Seizing this moment will require effective cross-sector and cross-agency coordination to build a culture of health. In a new program announced today, the CDC Foundation, the American Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and MPHI will engage intermediary organizations, such as local health providers, the faith community and others, to support governmental state health agencies (SHAs). This work will be enabled through partnerships with public and social sector entities to ensure optimal use of federal funding to achieve health equity and create resilient communities.

While SHAs are integral to establishing a culture of health, they face challenges in creating the lasting systems change needed to achieve the vision of healthy and resilient communities. These challenges range from a disinvestment in public health to a workforce deeply impacted by the global pandemic to the public health crisis of racism and oppression. As the challenges facing public health become more complex, the role of partnerships and strategic alignment with communities, state and local organizations, intermediary organizations and others becomes more critical.

“Designing and mobilizing inclusive, equitable public health systems is too big a task for public health agencies alone, as it would be for any single sector,” said Lauren Smith, MD, MPH, chief health equity and strategy officer at the CDC Foundation. “Intermediaries and other local partners bring valuable expertise, resources, networks and community perspectives that will contribute to success. With a coordinated, multisector approach, we can transform our public health system into one that has the resources, capacity and networks to create communities where all people have a just and fair opportunity to be healthy.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded program, titled STRETCH—Strategies to Repair Equity and Transform Community Health—will place significant attention on fostering and strengthening relationships between SHAs, intermediary organizations and the communities they serve to strategically target federal investments to achieve health equity in partnership with community.

“Rebounding from the impacts of COVID-19 on community will not be easy and it will require strong leadership,” said ASTHO CEO Michael Fraser. “State and territorial health officials know that working directly with community leaders, the faith community, local health providers and social service agencies is the best way to tackle health disparities. ASTHO has welcomed the infusion of federal funding to reduce disparities exacerbated by COVID-19. Getting these funds to communities and the organizations that support public health response efforts requires coordination at all levels of the health system. We look forward to working with the CDC Foundation and MPHI to support state and territorial public health leaders in establishing stronger and more effective multisector partnerships that foster community resilience and well-being.”

As part of this program, the CDC Foundation, ASTHO and MPHI will identify, select and provide technical assistance for up to 10 SHA teams—at the differing stages of their systems change and equity journey. This support will include launching a learning community, providing tailored coaching to individual SHA teams and developing national technical assistance resources. Jurisdictions with preliminary questions or interest can reach to STRETCH partners at

There are three primary objectives, which include supporting SHAs in: 1) using newly available funding to create and execute public health financing strategies that drive the greatest, most equitable public health impact; 2) designing meaningful and lasting systems change and create inclusive and equitable public health systems; and 3) embedding equity into SHAs strategic priorities, partnership approaches, program development and implementation, policies and practices.

“Public Health at its core is governmental,” according to Renée Branch Canady, PhD, MPA, chief executive officer, MPHI “This initiative leverages the capacity of public health partners to advance the vital and shared agenda of state public health leaders. We partner for the health and well-being of our population.”

SHAs selected to participate in this project will be a part of a peer learning community and will receive tailored technical assistance on a variety of topics. The specific areas will be developed jointly with the participating SHAs to include topics such as:

  • Using newly available funds to sustainably integrate health equity into public health functions and services;
  • Enhancing leadership capacity in strengthening cross-sector, community partnerships and shared prioritization with communities to tackle systems change;
  • Understanding and applying effective and sustainable funding strategies that include disseminating funding to local jurisdictions and communities, including the use of intermediaries; and
  • Harnessing data modernization and integration efforts to health equity and community wellbeing.

“Now is the time to be bold. It is an important time to make changes that create opportunities for everyone in our society to thrive,” said Hilary Heishman, senior program officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Strengthening public health with an eye to the future is fundamental to this vision.”

About ASTHO: ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.

About MPHI: MPHI is a Michigan-based, non-profit public health institute leading public health efforts across the country. Our mission is to promote health and advance wellbeing for all. Our broad network of partners includes academia, government, community-based organizations, and healthcare providers. These connections empower all of us to develop solutions to a wide range of challenges. Learn more about our work by visiting

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, we are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at