In the same way that an individual’s health is the result of a lot of factors—genetics, access to healthcare, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices—the health of an entire community also stems from an equally broad range of factors.
In a healthy community, all residents have access to a quality education, job and career opportunities, safe and affordable housing, transportation, access to physical activity and good nutrition, and, of course, quality healthcare.
When one—or more—of those factors is missing or insufficient, community health suffers and often leads to increased mental health issues and even chronic disease, such as cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.
Recognizing that the health of communities is critical to the individuals who live there and the vitality of the region as a whole, nonprofit hospitals across the country conduct Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA) every three years. With the aim of identifying the health needs of communities served by each hospital and developing strategies to address those needs, CHNAs shine a spotlight on the socioeconomic factors that impact community health.
According to Annamarie Golden, Director of Community Relations and Community Benefits at Baystate Health (BH), “There’s so much more to good health and wellness than what happens at a doctor’s office or in the hospital. Identifying the most prevalent health issues in a community and understanding the root causes of those conditions is vitally important to improving the health of all. The CHNA is a very effective and critically important tool for accomplishing that. In addition, the CHNA calls attention to resources and aspects of the community that contribute to its connectedness and wellbeing. This includes things like social networks, community-based organizations, and cultural factors.”
What is a Community Health Assessment?
The most important aspect of a successful CHNA is community engagement. “Because the findings of the CHNA guide our long-term strategies and investments, it’s essential that we ask for input from as many individuals in the communities, with a focus on individuals and communities that are most impacted by health inequities.” For the 2022 CHNA, Baystate engaged over 500 individuals representing communities served by BH’s four hospitals. Due to the COVID pandemic, community engagement was limited to virtual spaces and was much lower than for our 2019 CHNA.
From November 2021 through March 2022, the CHNA consultants, in partnership with the Baystate Health Community Benefits Team, hosted and facilitated virtual focus groups, community forums, and community chats, as well as conducted key-informant interviews and a public health survey.
Golden notes, “The focus of each of these efforts was not only specific healthcare needs, such as diabetes care and heart disease, but also the community’s overarching health and social needs including affordable housing, access to healthy food and transportation, etc. It was a resource intensive process but yielded critical qualitative data that will help us prioritize needs and identify new and build on existing strategies to address some of the needs identified. Ultimately, we’re looking to ensure the services and resources we offer, as well as the investments we make with our limited resources are meeting the needs of the communities we serve. Further, the specificity of the qualitative data allows us to tailor strategies for each of the communities we serve rather than apply a one-size-fits-all approach.”
CHNA Shows Causes for Concern, Opportunities for Change
To best understand the challenges and forces at work in the regions served by Baystate, the CHNA team conducted four separate health needs assessments. The assessments covered the communities around the following Baystate facilities:
Each CHNA explored three major issues:
Social and economic factors, or determinants, that influence health
- Barriers to accessing healthcare
- Health behaviors and outcomes
Further, each CHNA aimed to identify different populations of concern (e.g., people with limited income, youth, older adults, people with substance use disorders, etc.).
While the findings of each CHNA revealed issues specific to each community, several issues rose to the forefront across the region.
CHNAs Highlight Public Health Issues
Golden explains, “The CHNAs highlighted several challenges and specific health issues of concern common to all the communities. The top areas of concern include:
1. Social and Economic
Violence and trauma
- Financial health and wellbeing
- Environmental exposure and climate crisis
2. Barriers to Healthcare Access
Under the umbrella of ‘barriers to healthcare access,’ all communities are experiencing challenges related to:
Lack of transportation
- Lack of care coordination
- Lack of cultural sensitivity.
Language barriers also present a significant obstacle in several communities.
3. Health Behaviors and Outcomes
The top areas of concern include:
Youth mental health
- Substance use
- Chronic disease
“The health and wellbeing of our patients and the broader community is always the highest priority for Baystate,” says Golden. “The information gathered through the CHNA helps us identify specific health needs and their root causes, establish a list of priorities, and create a path for aligning and implementing strategies to address them. In addition, we share this information as broadly as we can with social service and community organizations, municipalities, local foundations and funders, and our elected officials in the region so that they, too, can strategically focus their efforts on improving the health of as many people as possible.”
View our 2022 CHNA reports.
What Happens Next?
Baystate Health hospitals, in partnership with their Community Benefits Advisory Councils, are currently developing hospital-specific Strategic Implementation Plans, which will describe how the hospitals plan to address identified and prioritized needs. CHNA summary documents are also under development. Both the SIPs and CHNA summaries will be available on the Baystate website in February 2023.
In 2023, the Baystate’s Community Benefits Team looks forward to going back into the community to share the CHNA findings with individuals that were engaged in the process and the broader community.
Learn more about how Baystate Health aims to make a positive impact on the well-being of our community.
The graphic on this page comes from Healthy People 2030, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved with permission from the Healthy People website.