CHIP plan includes strategies to improve community health

Keith Churchwell, MD, (left) led a group of local residents on a stroll during a “Get Heathy Walk n’ Talk” event along the Farmington Canal Greenway Trail in New Haven last year.

Every year, Yale New Haven Health System (YNHHS) hospitals work to enhance access to healthcare services for their communities while supporting a number of community initiatives. These include health screenings, support groups, education sessions, leadership activities, financial grants and assistance to maintain and improve the health of each hospital’s local community.

Understanding the health status of a community – and the multitude of factors that influence health – are important in identifying priorities for future planning and funding, existing strengths and assets to build on, and areas for further collaboration and coordination across organizations, institutions and community groups. To that end, each YNHHS hospital conducts its own Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) every three years.

These assessments examine health status indicators for a given population, which are used to identify a community’s health-related needs. The ultimate goal of the assessments is a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) that includes strategies to address identified significant health needs.

“Through the CHNA process we can align system-wide resources and develop local partnerships to improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” said Nancy Hamson, director, Strategy and Community Health Improvement, YNHHS.

At Yale New Haven Hospital, assessments are conducted by the Healthier Greater New Haven Partnership. The partnership comprises more than 40 organizations – including YNHH – dedicated to improving the health and well-being of residents in the 13-town region. Data are compiled via surveys, focus groups and community forums on multiple factors, including demographics, social and physical environments and health outcomes.

The top health priorities identified for YNHH’s CHIP plan fall into three categories: access to care; healthy lifestyles, which addresses chronic disease prevention and management; and mental and behavioral health, including substance abuse and mental health issues.

“Surveys show that many people in Greater New Haven postpone or delay medical care for various reasons, including physicians not accepting their insurance and lack of transportation or convenient office hours,” said Augusta Mueller, Community Benefits manager, YNHHS.

Efforts to address these problems include conducting additional surveys to discover why patients lose insurance coverage, and working with a medical transportation provider to identify ways to enhance services.

Initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles during 2017 included more than 20 Get Heathy CT Walk n’ Talk events in several area towns. These offered residents an opportunity to exercise while chatting with local healthcare professionals. Four “Get Fit/Healthy Kids” days on the New Haven Green highlighted local programs and connected people with healthy eating and physical activity resources.

“We treat diseases with medication and procedures, but the true opportunities in our community involve encouraging lifestyle changes that will help with prevention,” said Keith Churchwell, MD, senior vice president and executive director, Heart and Vascular, Transplantation and Medicine Services.

In the area of substance abuse, health promotion advocates with YNHH’s 17-year-old Project ASSERT have screened more than 48,000 YNHH emergency department patients for drug and alcohol problems and referred them to community treatment services. Additional 2017 CHIP action steps included co-sponsoring a symposium on the state’s opioid epidemic with Yale School of Medicine, the Connecticut Health I-Team and the Connecticut Opioid Response Unit.

“Health is intertwined with multiple facets of our lives,” said Hamson. “CHIP plan efforts – combined with other initiatives – are helping to measurably improve health and well-being in Greater New Haven.”