In 2012 the Internal Revenue Service mandated that all non-profit hospitals undertake a community health needs assessment (CHNA) that year and every three years thereafter. Further, these hospitals need to file a report every year thereafter detailing the community’s progress towards meeting the indicated needs. This type of assessment is a prime example of a primary prevention strategy in population health management. Primary prevention strategies focus on preventing diseases or strengthening the resistance to diseases by generally focusing on environmental factors.
I believe that it is very fortunate that non-profit hospitals are carrying out this activity in their communities. By assessing the needs of the community and by working with community groups to improve the health of the community, great strides can be made in improving public health, a key determinant of one’s overall health. As stated on the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Blue Shirt Blog (CHNAs and Beyond: Hospitals and Community Health Improvement), “There is growing recognition that the social determinants of health – where we live, work, and play, the food we eat, the opportunities we have to work and exercise and live in safety – drive health outcomes. Of course, there is a large role for health care to play in delivering health care services, but it is indisputable that the foundation of a healthy life lies within the community. To manage true population health – that is, the health of a community – hospitals and health systems must partner with a broad spectrum of stakeholders who share ownership for improving health in our communities.” I believe that these types of community involvement will become increasingly important as reimbursement is driven by value.
Historically, healthcare providers have managed the health of individuals, and local health departments have managed the community environment to promote healthy lives. Now, with the IRS requirement, the work of the two is beginning to overlap. Added to the recent connection of the two are local coalitions and community organizations, such as religious organizations.
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The community in which I live provides an excellent example of the new interconnections of various organizations to collectively improve the community’s health. In 2014 nine non-profits, including three hospitals, in Kent County, Michigan, conducted a CHNA of the county to assess the strengths and weaknesses of health in the county and to assess the community’s perceptions of the pressing health needs. The assessment concluded that the key areas of focus for improving the health of the community are:
· Mental health issues
· Poor nutrition and obesity
· Substance abuse
· Violence and safety
At this time, the Kent County Health Department has begun developing a strategic plan for the community to address these issues. A wide variety of community groups have begun meeting monthly to form this strategic plan. There are four workgroups, one for each of the key areas of focus. I am involved in the Substance Abuse workgroup to represent one of my clients, Kent Intermediate School District. Other members include a substance abuse prevention coalition, a Federally qualified health center, a substance abuse treatment center, and the local YMCA. The local hospitals are involved in other workgroups. One of the treatment group representatives is a co-chair of our group. The health department wants to be sure that the strategic plan is community-driven.
At the first meeting, the health department leadership stated that the strategic plan must be community-driven. This is so so that the various agencies in the community will buy into the strategic plan and work cooperatively to provide the most effective prevention and treatment services without overlap. The dollars spent on services will be more effective if the various agencies work to enhance each others’ work to the extent possible.
At this time, the Substance Abuse workgroup examines relevant data from the 2014 CHNA survey and other local resources. The epidemiologist at the health department is reviewing relevant data with the group so that any decisions about the strategic plan’s goals will be data-driven. Using data to make decisions is one of the keystones of the group’s operating principles. All objectives in the strategic plan will be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART).
Once the strategic plan is finished, the groups will continue with the plan’s implementation, evaluating the outcomes of the implementation and adjusting the plan as needed in light of evaluation. As one can see, the workgroups of the CHNA are following the classic Plan-Do-Check-Act process. This process has been shown time and again in many settings-healthcare, business, manufacturing, et al.-to produce excellent outcomes when properly followed.
As noted above, I recommend that healthcare providers become involved with community groups to apply population-level health management strategies to improve the community’s overall health. One good area of involvement in the Community Health Needs Assessment project being implemented through the local health department and non-profit hospitals.