Program Voice: The Value of CHNAs to Community Leaders in Health

Jessica Burroughs is the Partnership Manager at Rural Forward NC, one of the programs of the Foundation of Health Leadership & Innovation.  In light of our topical focus on community health needs assessments, she gives us her insight on how a community’s regional health leadership both benefits from and shapes CHNAs. A previous article discusses the demand for a standardized assessment process that called for the creation of the NC Eastern Regional Community Health Needs Assessment Collaborative. At the same time, Jessica emphasizes that the contextual interpretation of this data may look different for each community.

The value these assessments provide to local task forces is multi-fold:

  • By identifying county-wide needs, CHNAs inform the more specific research and surveillance that can be conducted on the community level.
  • CHNAs justify the work of existing programs, providing factual evidence that the needs they address demand more attention (and funding).
  • The community leaders who work on the CHA are often involved in more local work as well. In this way, CHNAs support the development of assessment skills that can be leveraged in the community.

In her role, Jessica works with community partners to design, organize, and implement capacity-building and organizational development services. One of these partners in Rockingham County is the Be Healthy Rockingham County Workgroup, whose mission is to address the county’s physical activity and nutrition needs.

This group of individuals is invested in and dedicated to improving community health. The co-chair of Be Healthy Rockingham County serves as the Healthy Carolinians Coordinator of the Rockingham County Health Department. The other members of the Be Healthy Leadership team were involved in the community health needs assessment development and dissemination process.  Participants of the Be Healthy Rockingham County group discussed the CHNA results. Considering their resources and manpower, participants decided that it was beyond the scope of Be Healthy to address broad needs across the county. Instead, they are using the CHNA data to guide their area of focus, and will address needs more deeply in underserved pockets of the county.

Still, the data collected by the CHNA can justify the work being done on this more localized level. For instance, Be Healthy Rockingham County developed a mobile phone app to provide residents an information source for trails, fresh food, and community resources. As it turned out, the app was not as widely used as expected, which brings up the issue that perhaps this method of communicating with county residents may have missed the mark.

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[one_half_last] The CHNA data from 2016, released 6 months ago, identified three key target areas for the county: physical activity and nutrition, social determinants (specifically education), and access to healthcare. [/one_half_last]

As these data-supported gaps are identified, Be Healthy Rockingham County is using this information to seek the resources and expertise necessary to further research community needs in these areas.

“The community health needs assessments process identified the broad swathes of need, and now enables groups like Be Healthy Rockingham County and the Social Determinants Task Force to dive deeper into specific areas.” – Jessica Burroughs

Western Rockingham County has significantly fewer recreational facilities than the Eastern part of the county.  A group of dedicated community members is seeking grant funding for recreational facilities in this part of the county.  Jessica was able to connect them with compelling data from the CHNA to include in their grant proposal and help make the case for investing in this county. A community food strategies group has also gained some momentum as a new initiative. Jessica is supporting them by first assessing the need for such a group to be created, given existing coalitions and progress. In order to do so, she organized surveys that will be analyzed soon by a planning group. Again, the expertise of these community leaders is largely influenced by the CHNA development and administration process.

It’s clear from these efforts that a community’s voice needs to be heard and considered—by county, yes, but also by city, by zip code, and by neighborhood. Rockingham County is a good example of how county-wide initiatives like the health needs assessment interact with community-wide efforts. The mediator is often someone in Jessica’s shoes, working for a capacity-building organization like Rural Forward NC.  In some instances, CHNAs are a starting point from which initiatives can be born, in others a check-in for justified continuation of ongoing projects. In all cases, the data and its uses are a reflection of evaluators, educators, and residents who care deeply about improving health.

Rural Forward NC is a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation.  Rural Forward NC amplifies the impact of rural leaders, organizations, and coalitions through capacity building and resource development. For more information, please visit