Nantahala Health Foundation’s Board of Directors elected a new slate of officers, all of whom assumed their new responsibilities in April.
Franklin native Lisa Leatherman was elected in February by a unanimous vote of the board to serve as its chair. A founding member of Nantahala Health Foundation and a Duke Energy employee for more than 35 years, Leatherman is member of the Sylva Rotary Club and serves on boards for the Southwestern Community College Foundation, Mainspring Conservation Trust, Smoky Mountain Host and Western Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology Dean’s Advisory Board.
“It is an honor to serve as a founding member – and now chair – of Nantahala Health Foundation,” Leatherman said. “The opportunity to partner with nonprofits, other human services agencies, local governments, and community leaders in the six westernmost counties in Western North Carolina to influence the health and well-being of fellow citizens is humbling and motivating.”
Roger Plemens, another of NHF’s founding members, was elected vice chair at the board’s February meeting. Prior to retiring in 2020, Plemens began his professional career at Macon Savings and Loan Association in March of 1978 as a mortgage loan officer. The bank held $27 million in assets with one office when he started. After being named the chief lending officer and vice president in 1984, Plemens rose to senior vice president in 1994 and president/CEO in April 2004.
“The work Nantahala Health Foundation is doing to identify solutions to health problems is vital to the future of our region,” said Plemens of his service on the Nantahala Health Foundation board. “Future generations are counting on us to remove barriers to health, and I, for one, intend to do my best not to let them down.”
Angie Knight, superintendent of Graham County Schools, and Alison Cochran, director of Swain County’s Health and Human Service, were both elected to second terms as secretary and treasurer, respectively.
“Having spent my entire career in education, I have learned that all community issues are interconnected, including health and wellness,” Knight said. “I look forward to continuing in this role to make decisions that benefit all our communities.”
As a representative of Swain County and health directors across Western North Carolina, Cochran said her professional experience “…gives me an enhanced understanding of the challenges our communities face. (Nantahala Health Foundation) cannot solve these problems alone, but we can and will work with others to ensure we are creating a better future for all.”
At its core, Nantahala Health Foundation’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for innovation and collaboration for nonprofit organizations working to make life better for underserved members of our community, Nantahala Health Foundation Executive Director Lori Bailey said.
“Our mission frames the work of the board, including the investments they make in Western North Carolina,” she said. “I am excited to begin our organization’s next chapter with the backing of these stellar leaders as we continue to work together to address the social health drivers impacting our region.”
Social drivers of health, coupled with lifestyle choices often based on their availability and ease of access, directly impact more than 80 percent of an individual’s health outcomes, leaving less than 20 percent resulting from clinical care. Therefore, to have the greatest impact on health, Nantahala Health Foundation’s board of directors has consistently invested in work that improves where and how our residents live, learn, work and play.
“At this point the research is undeniable: Social drivers of health and actively engaging in beneficial lifestyle choices when they are available far exceed cumulative physician visits when it comes to predicting an individual’s long-term health outcomes,” said Leatherman.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2030 report, social drivers of health for individuals can be grouped into five categories:
- economic stability
- education access and quality
- heath care access and quality
- neighborhoods and built environments
- social and community context
All too often, these health drivers contribute to disparities and inequities within some communities. For example, people without access to grocery stores due to financial or geographic barriers are less likely to choose high-quality nutritional food. This lack of access day in and day out raises their risk of developing life-threatening health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity — and even lowers their life expectancy relative to those who do have access to healthy foods, according to Healthy People 2030.
“Unfortunately, simply promoting the benefits of making healthy choices does not eliminate these and other health disparities when beneficial choices are not available or accessible,” Bailey said. “Instead, philanthropic groups like Nantahala Health Foundation must work in collaboration with public health organizations and our nonprofit partners in sectors like education, individual and family support services, transportation, and housing to take action to improve the conditions in people’s environments.”
About Nantahala Health Foundation
Nantahala Health Foundation partners with nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties and the Qualla Boundary to improve health and wellness outcomes for all. By addressing the root causes of health inequities and by removing barriers to health, NHF’s impact is broadly felt in its partnerships with regional change-makers.
Since its establishment in 2019, Nantahala Health Foundation has employed its grantmaking programs to invest more than $3.46 million in support to some 175 programs, all of which have contributed a total regional mobilization of more than $15.6 million and the improvement of thousands of lives. NHF’s operations, which were launched with a modest $15 million investment under the direction of a volunteer board of directors, require public support to continue to serve as one of Western North Carolina’s most influential health-related philanthropic entities.
Those who wish to learn more about their work within the region and how best to support it are invited to visit their website at NantahalaHealthFoundation.org or call 828.634.1527.