The Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, working with The Office of Health Access in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, has secured a grant that should go a long way towards improving population health in the East.
The $320,000 award from The Duke Endowment will be used to support a new centralized, self-sustaining structure called the N.C. Eastern Regional Community Health Needs Assessment Collaborative, which will be a sponsored program of the Foundation. The Collaborative will work to establish a standardized regional community health needs assessment process for eastern North Carolina.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, not-for-profit and government hospitals are required by the IRS to conduct community health needs assessments every three years. Survey questions touch on a wide range of topics including community safety and recreation opportunities, housing and transportation options, vaccinations and nutrition, smoking and drinking habits, and chronic diseases.
The Division of Public Health in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services requires local health departments to conduct similar assessments periodically. But the process each department uses – including the questions asked as part of that process – varies widely between jurisdictions and organizations.
“Today’s changing health care environment makes the CHNA more important than ever,” said Anne Thomas, our Interim President and Chief Executive Officer. “The uniform and standardized approach of the Collaborative will not only be a cost-effective way to conduct the assessment, but will also provide new opportunities for both local and regional collaborative work and the sharing of resources and best practices for community health involvement. The FHLI focuses on whole person whole community care. This regional process will support moving the state in that direction in an intentional and targeted way.”
Will Broughton, coordinator for the Office of Health Access and future project coordinator for the collaborative, will be facilitating the day-to-day implementation efforts. He said the infrastructure will create opportunities for new and better collaborations and partnerships among health organizations as they seek to identify the most effective health interventions for the populations they serve – and as they seek funding for those interventions.
“It provides a third lens – a higher view – from which to look at health in eastern North Carolina,” Broughton said. “We have the health departments’ view, the hospitals’ view, and now an aggregate of data for the entire region. That should ultimately lead to an improvement in the quality and utility of population health data, the ability to compare and contrast ‘apples-to-apples’ information across geographic boundaries.”
The grant will fund the hiring of vendors to administer a standardized survey beginning in October 2017 – primarily via the internet, but also through paper surveys, in-person and telephone interviews as needed. Trained facilitators will lead focus groups to collect additional data. Project organizers will also monitor the data to ensure the demographics adequately reflect each county’s population. It will be maintained in a database so counties can compare outcomes for various interventions.
“This is the start of a process that will help develop solutions for identified community health problems,” said Jim Madson, Beaufort County Health Director and chair of the project’s steering committee. He noted that each individual county and hospital will still decide at the local level how they would like to prioritize their findings and what interventions they want to focus on.
While the baseline survey will be the same across all eastern North Carolina counties, counties will have the option to add unique questions tailored to their specific populations or to emerging health concerns in their areas.