The purpose of the Incubator Collaboratives program was to foster innovative collaboration across local health departments and to broaden resource sharing across rural areas of North Carolina. Through funding from the Division of Public Health at the NC Department of Health and Human Services, NCIPH served as administrator of this statewide program. Incubators were designed to enable both local autonomy and the sharing of resources and ideas such that health departments could focus on local community health needs while benefiting from regional public health initiatives. The Incubator Collaboratives Program was distinct in that the public health issues and related interventions and projects derived from discussions at the individual incubator collaborative and at the Incubator Steering Committee levels so that issues and initiatives surfaced from experiences and needs of the local health departments. Some of these regional initiatives went on to become statewide incubator projects. Funding to support projects came from both within the Incubators program and also other funding sources.
Over the life of the program, many projects were undertaken to address public health issues (e.g. heart disease and stroke , HIV, diabetes, tobacco use, obesity, healthcare access and quality) and to enhance local health department capacity, particularly the capacity of smaller, rural local health departments (e.g. automating environmental health inspections, clinical quality improvement training and initiatives, dental quality improvement and training, best-practice initiatives to improve billing and collections, providing high-speed dedicated digital networks.) Incubators secured about $20m in non-appropriated funding to support these projects for North Carolina’s local health departments. A cost benefit evaluation has demonstrated that the collaborative program, on average, demonstrated a benefits ratio of 6 to 1. In other words, for every dollar contributed by the state and local health departments, over six dollars have been returned.