Community Health Needs Assessment—So Much More Than a Regulatory Requirement

Every three years nonprofit hospitals and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are required to conduct a community health needs assessment (CHNA). The CHNA requirements are fairly broad, allowing organizations a lot of discretion in how they conduct the assessment. The general steps a nonprofit hospital must complete are outlined in Section 501(r)(3) of the tax code and include the following five steps:

  1. Define the community served.
  2. Assess the health needs of the community.
  3. Solicit and take into account input received from persons who represent the broad interests of the community, including those with special knowledge of or expertise in public health.
  4. Document the CHNA in a written report.
  5. Make the CHNA report widely available to the public.

But completing a CHNA can be so much more than checking a regulatory box. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a CHNA can give organizations comprehensive information about the community’s current health status, needs and issues. In turn, this information can help hospitals and FQHCs develop a community health improvement plan by justifying how and where resources should be allocated to best meet community needs.

Other benefits cited by the CDC include improved organizational and community coordination and collaboration; identification of strengths and weaknesses to address in quality improvement efforts; and increased knowledge about public health and the interconnectedness of activities.

Faith Jones, director of care coordination and lean consulting for HealthTechS3, sees a lot of untapped potential in CHNAs, especially when it comes to care coordination.

“Many organizations don’t realize what they actually have when they conduct a CHNA,” she says. “They’re engaging the community and building relationships with various community resources in the process. All that work doesn’t just belong in a report. It can be leveraged and incorporated into care coordination.”

Jones, along with Julie Haynes, strategic planning consultant for HealthTechS3, will be hosting a webinar on July 14, Community Health Needs Assessments: More Than a Regulation—A Tool to Assist in Delivering Care, that will go beyond the basics of CHNAs and explain to participants how to use the results of these assessments to improve patient care.

But, in order to best do that, Haynes says, the assessment itself has to be informed by the goals of the organization. “The government is so broad in what they require,” she says. “For instance, there are not specific regulations about what questions to ask in a focus group or survey.  Hence, taking into consideration the results of the prior CHNA and organization’s overall goals can influence the content of the questions.”

For example, you could pose generic questions to a small survey sample and you’d probably still be in compliance. But that wouldn’t maximize the opportunity to your organization.

Instead, “begin with the end in mind,” Haynes says. “If you want your CHNA to help inform your care coordination efforts, establish that as a goal early in the process so that you can customize the assessment, from questions asked to stakeholders interviewed.”

In her role for HealthTechS3, Haynes works with hospitals and FQHCs by facilitating the assessment process and writing the CHNA report. All in, it can take several months to complete, not including the development of a multi-year implementation plan. Because of the three-year lag between assessment cycles, Haynes works with people who didn’t play a role in the previous assessment process and don’t even know it’s a requirement.

“We take a systematic approach and explain the purpose and the process,” she says. “We are there every step of the way,” she says. To learn more about the power of the community health needs assessment for your hospital or FQHC, reserve your spot for the webinar today.