Columns for The Lufkin News

A True Community Health Needs Assessment

Posted Aug 11, 2019 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

The IRS requires charitable hospital organizations to conduct a community health needs assessment (CHNA) every three years and to adopt an implementation strategy to meet the community health needs identified through the CHNA. CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial recently completed their 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment and will now begin the process of developing, adopting, and implementing a strategy to address identified needs. Much of this strategy will depend on working together with community stakeholders, many of which participated in the assessment data collection and interview process. Additional data was obtained from sources such as the Texas Department of State Health Services, the US Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Episcopal Health Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings.

The 2019 CHNA was created by the Center for Community Health Development at Texas A&M University at the request of CHI in collaboration with multiple non-profit community organizations, churches, school districts, and individuals. The entire CHNA is published on the CHI website at www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.o.... Because CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial is a regional health system, the assessment covered not only Lufkin and Angelina County, but a seven-county region that included Polk and San Augustine counties, where CHI facilities also are located.

I have a number of thoughts after reviewing this recent assessment.

  1. The health of a community is dependent on far more than just availability of health care. This is well-demonstrated by both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings (www.countyhealthrankings.org/) and the Episcopal Health Foundation (www.episcopalhealth.org/en/res...). To improve health, we must identify and address everything from education level and health behaviors to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic factors that affect a community’s health.
  2. The 2019 CHNA is community-driven, and solutions to our health needs must include the community as well. So many partners exist, including Burke, the Angelina County & Cities Health District, the Coalition, our many school districts, DETCOG, the Texas Forest Country Partnership, and, of course, our city and county governments. All will need to be engaged in moving the needle to improve the health of our communities.
  3. The role of the hospital in the community has changed. In the past, hospitals were primarily a destination to deal with an acute episode, like having surgery or managing a heart attack. Now, hospitals must be part of the chronic care management team for patients with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health issues, and more. Hospitals are being graded – and paid – on how successfully they keep patients out of the hospital, if you can believe it! That requires coordination with community partners to ensure that people get the care they need both before and after they require care in a hospital facility.
  4. Risk factors – behaviors – such as smoking, obesity, and exercise must be addressed, as well as substance abuse and mental health needs. We are doing this already, to some extent, across organizations and municipalities. More can be done.
  5. Education is widely recognized as one of the primary social determinants of health. The St. Luke’s region has a lower proportion of residents with a college degree (14.2%) than either Texas (28.7%) or the US (30.9%). Within the region, the rate varies from a low of 11.6% in Jasper County to a high of 16.7% in Angelina County, yet both are significantly lower than Texas or the US. Household income and insurance status, which are closely linked to education level, also impact community health. Affecting change in these areas will require a generation of effort.
  6. One of the key findings of the CHNA – and one that will require a lot of thought and planning to address – is the inadequacy of local and regional transportation. Lack of transportation impacts access to preventive services and early detection of illness as well as access to treatment and follow up.

As a result of the needs identified in CHI’s 2019 CHNA, with few exceptions, premature death rates in our region are higher than the State in virtually every category. This CHNA must not be an exercise on paper only. Follow up must happen. We have a good idea now of the need. We also have strong communities with excellent resources that can come together to find and implement solutions. Our health depends on it.

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