Episode 22: How the Mid Shore is Improving Health and Health Equity

On this episode of “What’s the 211?” Quinton Askew speaks with Nicole Morris of the Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition. They discuss the ways the five-county coalition is improving residents’ health and achieving healthy equity. Initiatives include a partnership with 211 to connect multilingual residents to essential health and human services, a diabetes prevention and management program, and a project to attract and connect professionals to healthcare jobs.

Show Notes

1:00 About the Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition
2:44 Health Priorities
5:05 Community Collaboration
5:57 What’s the 211, Hon?
8:35 Community Events Calendar
9:49 Community Ambassadors
13:00 Multi-lingual connections
14:21 Get Involved
17:36 How Nicole got involved with the Mid Shore
18:28 State outreach


Quinton Askew (:37)

Welcome to ”What’s the 211?” My name is Quinton Askew, President and CEO of Maryland Information Network, 211 Maryland. Our special guest is Nicole Morris, who has a Master of Science in Nursing but is also a Registered Nurse and the Director of the Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition. Hello, Nicole, how are you?

Nicole Morris (:58)

Great. Thanks for having me, Quinton.

About the Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition

Quinton Askew (1:00)

Thanks for joining us. Could you tell us a little bit about what the Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition is and the work you’re doing with them?

Nicole Morris (1:07)

So, the Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition is one of 19 Health Improvement Coalition’s in Maryland. We are unique in the fact that we are the only coalition that comprises more than one county. In fact, our coalition is a partnership of stakeholders from five counties in the Mid Shore region:

  • Caroline
  • Dorchester
  • Kent
  • Queen Anne’s
  • Talbot

We have over 200 individuals representing over 100 organizations, such as our Chambers of Commerce or public school districts, hospitals, healthcare partners, and many faith—and community-based organizations.

We’re really all working towards a common goal of improving the health of our residents and achieving equity and health status.

Quinton Askew (1:57)

That’s a lot of folks to bring together. What inspired the formation of the coalition, and how did you bring all those parts together?

Nicole Morris (2:04)

So, a few years ago, right about the time that COVID came on the scene, the Maryland Department of Health gave funding to kickstart the Health Improvement Coalitions in different regions of the state. The Health Officers of our five counties decided to collaborate as a region instead of working independently.

Initially, we were concentrating on preventing and managing diabetes, which was and still is a statewide priority. Over time, we have broadened our focus to address a range of health issues beyond diabetes, and we’ve experienced significant growth really through word of mouth.

Health Priorities

Quinton Askew (2:44)

I know you mentioned diabetes as one of the health issues that the coalition is addressing. I know there are others, some other primary health issues that the coalition is addressing because I know there’s some work specifically in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. What are some of the other primary health issues that are being looked at?

Nicole Morris (3:07)

We look at data to guide our focus. We’re addressing certain health issues straight on, like diabetes, but we’re also looking at things that contribute to health issues.

So, we currently have six workgroups.

So, all of those upstream factors that contribute to somebody’s health in the first place.

Quinton Askew (3:51)

Addressing some of these needs, there are programs that are involved that kind of get folks engaged and involved in looking at their health. What are some of those initiatives that are currently being run throughout the counties?

Nicole Morris (4:04)

We have a lot, but I’ll give you just a couple of examples. So, our diabetes workgroup successfully introduced the CDC Diabetes Prevention Program to our area. This was really a crucial step given that,

One in three of our adult residents is at risk for type two diabetes.

This initiative allows adults who are at high risk of type two diabetes to access a year-long program through our partners, such as health departments and churches, and all at no cost. So, that was fantastic.

Another example is our provider recruitment and retention group, which has been dedicated to enhancing the presence of healthcare professionals in our underserved region. They launched a website, Midshorehealthcareers.org, that offers insights into the lifestyle and opportunities available in our Mid Shore region, along with direct job links to attract more healthcare professionals.

Community Collaboration

Quinton Askew (5:05)

It sounds like a lot of this is also community-driven. And so how do you get like these other organizations like nonprofits, as you mentioned, you know, face to face? How do you get all the folks involved on the same page with kind of providing the support?

Nicole Morris (5:18)

We’re all in this together – our hospital systems and our community-based organizations reach out to underserved populations and connect them to health and social support services. This can prevent avoidable and perhaps costly hospital admissions. There’s a real sense of working together to achieve a common goal.

My job is really to make these connections with our partners to help provide a framework for action. And, you know, the best part is helping our partners celebrate their success.

What’s the 211, Hon?

Quinton Askew (5:57)

And I’m grateful that we’ve had an opportunity to collaborate with you, with 211, to provide some support down here on the Shore, which is one of your campaigns, What’s the 211, Hon? It’s unique, and we’ve been excited about it.

Can you talk a little bit about how that got started and that connection?

What's the 211 Hon text messaging reminder

Nicole Morris (6:16)

So, our group that’s looking at social determinants of health brainstormed ways to connect our residents with health and social support services, which, over the years, has been really challenging. Many counties have their own resource directories, and they were quickly getting out of date and not all that accessible and user-friendly to the public.

So, we began researching statewide resources and decided fairly quickly that we wanted to bring attention to 211 Maryland, which had the benefit of 24/7 Call Centers and language translation services.

So, we reached out to Maryland Information Network last fall and have been fortunate to receive such great support for our idea to launch a regional campaign called “What’s the 211? Hon?”

Quinton Askew (7:09)

Which is great and catchy. We definitely appreciated that.

A lot of things that came out of that was working with local resources to create a specific page that folks in the counties can access their services. There’s a texting campaign which hopefully will be of great impact.

Doing this work, and since you’ve been collaborating with other organizations and community individuals, what are some of the significant impacts you’ve seen from the work?

Nicole Morris (7:39)

This was really kind of a grassroots effort; even the name behind the campaign, “What’s the 211, Hon?” came about because we were kind of asking people, Do you know what 211 is? And people were saying to 211, what’s 211? We started laughing and said, What’s the 211? Hon, which for any Mary J. Blige listener will know, sounds like her song, what’s the 411?

For example, we kicked off our campaign about a month ago and are working on spreading the message. We awarded funding to some community-based organizations, and they’re employing 211 ambassadors to go out into the community and educate residents about the resources available through 211.

We’ve had great success so far, and we’re excited about where the campaign is going.

[Editor’s Note: If you’re a Mid Shore partner and would like to connect residents to essential health and human services, download the What’s the 211? marketing materials.]

Community Events Calendar

Quinton Askew (8:35)

It’s always good to help folks be better informed. I think it’s even better to have local individuals who are in the community and understand the community to be those ambassadors. That helps with buy-in, but also trust, which is a big part of the work, as I’m sure you know. Someone can trust who the messenger is, and that helps with folks accessing the service.

I know there’s been a lot of impact or success stories that have come out. Have any organizations shared any kind of success stories that have happened so far from the work that you guys have been doing?

Nicole Morris (9:08)

We’ve had a lot of success. One that stands out – we were hearing from our partners, who said they wanted a one stop shop to find community events in the region. So, we created a calendar that features everything from health fairs to labor and delivery classes to blood pressure screenings. Now, that’s all housed on our website. And we push out that information each month to people who subscribe to our texts.

So they just text MidShore to 898211 and they get a monthly text linking them back to all of the health events in our region, which is a great accomplishment.

Community ambassadors

Quinton Askew (9:49)

And so, you know, with convening all these organizations, and you’ve been working with 211 and the population there, what has been some of the biggest challenges that you all have to come across with trying to give folks access and just provide a lot of these important services?

Nicole Morris (10:00)

As a rural region, we definitely have our share of obstacles. There really are just fewer resources to go around. That underscores the need to work together to share our resources and our knowledge so we can turn our vision into reality.

I think all of our partners understand the need for the coalition. And just the fact that we’re pooling resources together, I think, keeps people on board.

Quinton Askew (10:34)

I know we’re using texting to engage some of the community members down there by providing resource information for 211. Have there been other creative ways beyond the 211 campaign that the organization has been able to engage communities? Is it kind of like, you know, stakeholder groups? Or what are some other ways that folks are engaged?

Nicole Morris (10:55)

We have a really broad representation of organizations that serve diverse populations. We have ambassadors from those organizations who serve on the coalition. They really speak to what the needs are in the community. And they’re really a liaison back to the work that we’re doing.

We feel like we have a direct connection to some of our residents who might be vulnerable or underserved. So, we’re really fortunate that we have such a broad and diverse coalition because we really do feel like it speaks to our region.

Quinton Askew (11:35)

I know you mentioned also utilizing data to provide services with the work. So what do you see coming, I guess, in the future with what you are seeing from the data you have or you are collecting or some of the goals or focus areas? Are there any talks about expanding the work or evolving just based on what you’re learning?

Nicole Morris (11:54)

We’re always evolving. We want to be able to meet the needs of our residents now and into the future. Right now, we’re focused on looking at those upstream factors that contribute to health. So, we know that:

  • income is really important,
  • that education is important,
  • that having housing and access to food,
  • and transportation are all really key.

So, we’re really focused right now on promoting the resources within 211. We know that if we can help people make that connection and meet their needs, they’re more likely to have better health.

It’s just, you know, a trickle-down effect. It benefits everybody.

We’re also looking at some of our growing population groups. So, we have growing immigrant groups who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole. And you know, as a coalition, we’re looking at ways our agencies can do a better job around health literacy and making sure vulnerable populations have access to care.

Multilingual connections

Quinton Askew (13:00)

With that work, are individuals able to access services such as language lines, language translation services, and other materials that are drafted into the language that individuals speak?

Nicole Morris (13:44)

It’s a work in progress. I would say resources are always lacking. But we’re looking at creative ways to make those connections.

One of the ways is using community health workers to be a bridge from the health care agency back into the community. We’re doing a lot of work looking at, you know, why aren’t some of our Spanish-speaking women accessing labor and delivery classes?

How can we do a better job of reaching out to them? So we’re constantly learning, we’re constantly growing, but we know that we have rich resources right around us. So, training people to be community health workers as a trusted messenger is one of our key initiatives.

Quinton Askew (13:58)

This is definitely important, and I wanted to make sure I got this right. I mentioned the Mid Shore, and I know there are specific counties on the Mid Shore. I think I mentioned Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot counties. Did I get them?

Nicole Morris


Get Involved

Quinton Askew (14:21)

That’s great. Okay. Okay. Just wanted to make sure that folks knew that particular area.

For individuals who are interested in supporting the work and mission that you guys are doing, how can organizations get involved? How do they be a part of the fun work that you all are doing?

Nicole Morris (14:37)

Well, there’s plenty to do, that’s for sure. And our coalition is open to anyone. So, I would say, if you’re interested in getting involved, start by checking out our website – Midshorehealth.org. There are lots of ways to get involved. If you have an hour or more a month, you could join our coalition, attend our meetings or attend a workgroup.

If you just have a few minutes and are interested in sharing some of the good work that’s happening, visit our website, share a blog post or go to our social media. We’re doing a lot of great stuff.

We’re counting on the community to help spread the word.

Quinton Askew (15:14)

You mentioned the workgroups. What generally transpires during the workgroups? Is that just kind of brainstorming sessions and feedback?

Nicole Morris (15:21)

Yeah, great question. So, COVID kind of pushed us to do everything online. So, all of our general meetings and all of our workgroups are all over Zoom.

They’re usually about half an hour to an hour, you know, maybe 10 to 15 individuals. They’re all doing what we would say action planning. So, they’re looking at the data, they’re looking at interventions that work, and then they’re putting those into play.

It’s a great way to get more involved if somebody has an hour a month.

Quinton Askew (15:56)

It seems like a great investment for individuals for residents that are down on the Mid Shore or want to engage or really benefit. What kind of what message do you have for community members that, you know, should be looking at the work that the coalition is doing, some of the benefits that they could get?

Nicole Morris (16:12)

There are so many ways to get involved. I would definitely sign up to be on our contact list. You can do that on our website. You’ll get notifications about important community events, but also funding opportunities because we frequently award mini-grants to community-based organizations.

We love being able to put the money right back into the community because we know that the community knows what the issues are and they know how best to address them.

Visit our website, Midshorehealth.org, and get on our contact list. That way, you’ll have access to all the news.

For those of you who are listening, who might not be familiar with the counties we represent, if you’ve ever crossed the Bay Bridge, you’re stepping into the Mid Shore. So that’s Queen Anne’s County, and then we go out from there.

So, if you are headed to the beach, you have likely driven through our region. We welcome you to be part of the work that we’re doing.

Quinton Askew (17:12)

Great, great scenic drive.

You mentioned the website address and other social media handles, are you guys on Twitter or some of the other social media?

Nicole Morris (17:20)

We’re on Facebook, we have a pretty big following there. You can find us at Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition. And we are on LinkedIn. So if you’re if you’re there, you can find this at Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition, too.

How Nicole got involved with the Mid Shore

Quinton Askew (17:36)

As we wind down, how did you get involved in working with the Health Improvement Coalition?

Nicole Morris (17:43)

I went to school to be a nurse and realized very early on that public health was really my passion. So, I’ve been working in public health for over 20 years. And, you know, I think when this opportunity came up, and the Health Officers decided to work regionally, they tapped me to leave the home, which was exciting, based on you know, some of the past work that I’ve done. So it’s been probably the most rewarding part of my career thus far. And I don’t see it stopping.

We’re a young coalition, and we have a lot of room to grow. So, we invite everyone to be part of this exciting work.

State outreach

Quinton Askew (18:28)

Yeah, it’s definitely very impactful work. In closing, is there anything else that you would like to share with the group, make sure that folks know about all the wonderful things that are being done?

Nicole Morris (18:40)

Yeah, check us out. We want to share our success. For any communities in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, or Baltimore City that might want to learn a bit more about what we’re doing, we’re happy to share how we did it because we really want to help translate the success across the state.

Reach out, check us out on the Web, check us out on Facebook, Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition. We’re just fortunate to have Maryland Information Network and 211 Maryland as a partner. Thank you, Quinton.

Quinton Askew (19:17)

No problem. We are definitely glad to be a partner.

I want to thank you again, Nicole Morris, Director of the Mid Shore Health Improvement Coalition. I definitely would encourage anyone to check out the website and social media, and reach out to Nicole to learn about the important work that the coalition is doing down on the Mid Shore. Nicole, thank you again for joining us, and we definitely look forward to continuing to work with you.

Nicole Morris (19:40)

Love that. Thank you, Quinton, and have a great day. Thank you.

Thank you to our partners at Dragon Digital Media, at Howard Community College.

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