The work to address unmet health needs for people of color and people with low incomes who have faced longstanding unfair and discriminatory barriers to health and health care is a long process. Meaningful change requires time, commitment, authentic inclusion, and constructive dialogues between community leaders and residents, health care organizations and state and local public health officials.

One opportunity for achieving this goal is through the next round of Community Health Needs Assessments that will be conducted by non-profit hospitals this fall and early in 2022. Every three years non-profit hospitals must, under a federal requirement (Section 501(r)(3)), partner with community members, representatives of underserved populations, and public health leaders to identify unmet health needs and develop a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and Implementation Strategy to address identified issues. Many hospitals will undoubtedly approach their assessment and planning with an eye for minimally complying with the federal regulations. However, at Community Catalyst, we see CHNAs as opportunities for community-based organizations to forge strong partnerships with hospitals, and meaningfully engage in the process to ensure that hospitals’ limited community benefit resources are appropriately targeted to achieve equity and rectify longstanding injustices. 

Existing challenges, such as longstanding distrust, power differentials, lack of support for nurturing robust community engagement, and conflicting priorities and expectations, often prevent community organizations and residents from engaging with hospitals in community benefit planning. Additionally, lack of clear federal guidance regarding effective outreach strategies results in hospitals utilizing widely differing approaches that may not be inclusive of diverse representation of community members.

Recognizing these factors, on September 16, we hosted a panel discussion webinar focusing on community engagement. During this webinar, our panelists – who are experienced community and hospital leaders from Cleveland and Minneapolis – offered us valuable lessons on what it means to build authentic community-hospital partnerships and support strong community engagement, with these being “headline” descriptions of their work:

A Vision of Change and University Hospitals in Cleveland joined forces to tackle structural racism, one of the top priorities identified in the Health Improvement Partnership-Cuyahoga (HIP-Cuyahoga).

Through the Backyard Initiative, the Cultural Wellness Center and Allina Health draw on traditions from different cultural resources to improve community and individual health in Minneapolis.

We at Community Catalyst are inspired by their exemplary work in the Community Benefit sphere. Please read more about their stories and successes here.