In what’s billed as a first-of-its-kind partnership, four local health systems have joined with Heartland Family Services and other organizations to help residents in northeast Omaha address behavioral health challenges in the community.

Omaha is one of 18 cities across the country to receive funding this year through the BUILD Health Challenge, a national collaborative that works with communities to address what are known as the social determinants of health. Many involve environmental factors, such as the availability of adequate housing and transportation, that impact residents’ health — and in this case, mental health.

The collaborative awarded $250,000 over 2½ years, which will be matched by equal contributions from the four health systems — CHI Health, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Methodist Health System and Nebraska Medicine — to bring total funding to $500,000.

Nicky Clark, Heartland Family Services’ vice president for community well-being, said the Omaha group’s unique collaboration, including the involvement of four health systems, made Omaha’s application stand out. The partners announced the award at a press conference Wednesday.

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The current round of awards brings the number of communities to receive funding through the program to 55. The nearest is in Des Moines. BUILD Health funders include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Additional partners in the Omaha project include the Douglas County Health Department, Live Well Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health, Charles Drew Health Center and Holy Name Housing Corporation.

Pete Festersen, CHI Health’s vice president for strategy and public affairs, said officials in every field from education to law enforcement increasingly are recognizing the importance of behavioral health in what they do. One in seven families in the state are impacted by behavioral health issues.

“This is one of the most important things we can be doing to have an impact on the health of our community,” he said.

But Clark stressed that north Omaha residents — and what they want in their community — will drive what comes from the initiative. The partners will provide the resources.

“This is us as partners being on tap for residents, rather than on top,” she said.

The first step will be to hire someone from the neighborhood to lead the collaborative. Organizers also will begin meeting with neighborhood residents to begin determining what issues they want to address, Clark said. The group hopes to have an action plan by the middle of next year.

Eventually, the idea would be to replicate the model in other neighborhoods that face significant health disparities, she said.

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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