How-To Tips

Health Literacy

Community connections: Everyone benefits when local resources team up with health services

Apr 1, 2021

Whether people live in large cities or small towns, they often have access to a wide range of community resources. These can include public agencies such as libraries and police and fire departments. Also, community services like senior centers, literacy programs, and places of worship. And businesses such as barbershops, laundromats, and hotels. Even health services are often offered in numerous ways. These include hospitals, clinics, and home health care agencies along with dental and veterinary practices.

When resources like these team up with health services, both patients and the public can benefit. Below are examples of how such pairings can help improve health action and understanding. The hope is that these examples inspire you to make connections in communities where you work and live. 

Connections between public agencies, community services, and health
Librarians are experts in finding and organizing information. Some have special training as consumer health librarians. Whether working at hospital-based or public libraries, librarians help connect patients and the public (or as librarians refer to them, patrons) to needed and timely health resources.

Amy Six-Means is a consumer health librarian. She shares many examples of partnerships between libraries and health services in her article, “Health Literacy’s Influence on Consumer Libraries” (Medical Reference Services Quarterly, January 24, 2017). Six-Means highlights the connection between medical librarianship and health literacy in my Health Literacy Out Loud (HLOL) podcast, Health Literacy & Consumer Health Librarians (HLOL #161).

Connections between businesses and health
Health information is notoriously hard to understand. It can be even more difficult to comprehend when someone is not a strong reader. One way to help is by promoting literacy from early childhood on. Brian Wallace is Director of the LaundryCares Foundation. He leads a laundromat initiative called, “Family Read, Play & Learn Centers.” Its mission is to help improve family literacy by installing mini-libraries in local laundromats.

In the HLOL podcast, Promoting Early Childhood Literacy through Local Laundromats (HLOL #197), Wallace shares three reasons why literacy corners pair well with laundromats. One has to do with proximity. Wallace says that families who come to laundromats often are the ones whose kids could use the most help. A second reason has to do with long “dwell times” when people stay in the laundromat. “You’re there for two hours as a captive audience. You can watch the socks tumble or look at your phone. Why not read to your kids, engage in literacy activities, or learn about other resources available in the neighborhood?” A third reason is the recurring nature of this visit. “We’re all creatures of habit,” says Wallace. “If I take my kids and my clothes in every Thursday afternoon at 4:00, you better believe I’ll be there next Thursday, the Thursday after that, and the Thursday after that.”

Connections with other types of health services
Alice Villalobos worked as a veterinarian for many years. In the HLOL podcast, Animal-Human Bond in Healthcare (HLOL #70), she spoke about the important bond between animals and humans and shared examples of how this bond matters in medical situations. “With a lot of elderly people, their kids are gone. They may have lost a spouse.” But their sense of purpose can remain if they have a pet. This relationship should never be trivialized, Villalobos explains. “People need to get up and feed and walk the animal. Their life routine is often centered on the animal.”