Some hospitals really know their communities, and some just hope they do. When was the last time the hospital CEO sat down and had a discussion with the Director of the Health Department concerning the needs of the community? I’ve worked around many hospital CEOs who have said about health status and improvement, “that’s public health”. Essentially saying that’s not our job, we take care of sick people. Immunizations, low birthweight babies, diabetes rates, are all the purview of the health department.
Good Reasons to Commit to a Community Health Needs Assessment
With revisions to the IRS regulations for 501(c )3 hospitals, the Federal government mandates community benefit activities must meet an identified community need in order to be counted on their form 990, Schedule H. If a hospital elects to ignore this mandate they will be at risk for a $50,000 fine and possibly losing their tax-exempt status. Although, this is the catalyst for most community health needs assessments, for-profit hospitals are also performing CHNAs as a benefit for the hospital and overall community. The hospital benefits by knowing more about the community which it can incorporate into its strategic plan and by collaborating with other organizations. The community benefits by having their hospital being proactive and collaboratively addressing health issues.
Many hospitals that are undergoing a community health needs assessment (CHNA) are seeing their communities and health in a whole new light. Most are seeing the IRS requirement turn into an extremely meaningful exercise. It is a collaborative process resulting in a plan for improving the health of the community. Many hospitals are analyzing data they’ve never been exposed to previously because it was the “job” of the Health Department. Hospitals are getting more involved in helping address the health issues they see coming into their Emergency and Outpatient Departments and Inpatient units every day. They are also seeing the CHNA process as invaluable step in preparing for Accountable Care, when the focus shifts to community health.
How to Accomplish an Effective Community Health Needs Assessment
At Stratasan, we use a five-phase CHNA process working hand in hand with local hospitals.
“The Data is Amazing.”
The hospital and community members are looking at healthcare utilization and demand in their chosen service area, phase 2. They are also looking at commuter patterns, day and night-time populations, health care purchasing behavior of their community (psychographics), chronic disease rates in their community, as well as the usual demographic information. This information opens their eyes to a whole new way of looking at health and their community. Hospitals are more in touch with their community. They know how to reach their community.
The Community Health Summit, phase four, is the most exciting part of the process. Eighty five community members in one room hearing about the health of their community, then listing and prioritizing the health issues and creating a plan to address those issues is a truly exhilarating process. The local hospital is there, as an equal member of the community working with the Health Department, United Way, Habitat for Humanity, a bank, a manufacturer, a community volunteer, a priest, and an outpatient psych counselor to create a plan to address the health issue of, for example, obesity. When the community creates the plan the community owns the plan.
As a bonus, the CEO meets with the Director of the Health Department. Huge win for the overall community!