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(Photos by Cliff Hollis)  

'APPLES TO APPLES'

Grant aims to improve health in the East through consistent assessments

June 2, 2017

By Amy Adams Ellis
University Communication

The Office of Health Access in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, working with the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, 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 help establish a standardized regional community health needs assessment process for eastern North Carolina over the next year.

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.

"Right now these assessments aren't uniform across the state or the region, and they're on varying schedules," said Al Delia, director of Brody's Office of Health Access. "So over the past two years we've partnered with health care leaders across the region to standardize the methodology and synchronize the assessment process into the same three-year cycle for participating health departments and hospitals. We're the first region in the country to try to do it this way."

From left: Will Broughton, coordinator of the Office of Health Access at the Brody School of Medicine; James Madson, health director for Beaufort County Health Department; and Al Delia, director of the Office of Health Access.



Twenty hospitals and 19 health departments (representing 25 counties) have expressed their intent to participate in the new centralized, self-sustaining structure called the N.C. Eastern Regional Community Health Needs Assessment Collaborative. It will be administered through the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, launched in 1982 as a "place where programs and partnerships grow to improve health of the whole-person through a whole-community approach."

"Up until this point, every county may have been defining 'chronic health conditions' differently," said Maggie Sauer, outgoing president and chief executive officer of the Foundation, "but in 2019, everyone should be asking the same questions in the same way on the same cycle. For the first time, we'll have data across geographical and market service areas that is uniform and standardized - and all at lower costs to the hospitals and health departments. The Foundation focuses on whole-person whole-community care. This data is critical to 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 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.

The baseline survey will be the same across all eastern North Carolina counties, but counties can add unique questions tailored to their specific populations or to emerging health concerns in their areas.

For more information about the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation visit
http://www.foundationhli.org/.

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