MGH Health Assessment of Community Now Going On

January 12, 2012
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A new health assessment being led by the neighborhood and conducted by Mass General Hospital (MGH) has attracted a lot of interest in the community and is generating a great deal of discussion.

“It’s been exciting so far in Charlestown,” said Leslie Aldrich, associate director for the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement. “We’ve done this in the past, but it’s been less rigorous and it wasn’t so much a community-driven process. To have a community process driven by the public will be a first and it will be very neat.”

Under a mandate by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that came about due to the new federal health care law, all non-profit hospitals have to conduct thorough Community Health Assessments (CHAs) in the communities where they are present. Those assessments have to be in strong collaboration with the community and must involve numerous meetings and community approval of the final results.

The purpose is to identify community health priorities, and then develop a plan to attack those priorities.

Under the IRS mandate, MGH must conduct the assessment and finish it within the same taxable year. With that in mind, MGH has embarked on a very ambitious process in Charlestown, Chelsea and Revere – a process that includes meetings, small group interviews, quality of life surveys, and deep community outreach.

So far, though, Charlestown is pulling the cart in the process.

“Charlestown is leading because they started first,” said Aldrich. “Charlestown’s process will look different than the other communities. They’re really rallying around the large groups and the community meetings here. It’s been a great process so far in Charlestown.”

The first order of business last fall was appointing an Assessment Committee, which was done separately from the neighborhood’s existing coalition. That process took some time, but yielded a great group of volunteers led by Tom Cunha.

Aldrich said Charlestown’s appointed committee for the process held a kick-off in October and then had a very successful forum on Dec. 1st.

“There were more than 150 people there and we asked the questions about quality of life and what needs to be addressed in the neighborhood,” said Aldrich.

Later this month, the committee will hold another forum, and in the meantime MGH is moving forward with other means of outreach – including a very in-depth quality of life survey for Charlestown.

“We’ll be going ahead with the quality of life survey soon,” she said. “Then, we’ll do focus groups within the community. We are going to reach out to groups that don’t typically come out to events and forums. We’ll ask what has prevented the community from moving forward. Is it the political structure? Is it new ethnic communities coming in? Is it companies coming and going so often?”

In April, Aldrich said all of the data collected will be presented to the neighborhood and the community will have a chance to set health issue priorities for MGH.

Finally, the MGH trustees must review the plan and approve it.

The process must be completed by September, which is the end of the taxable year for MGH. Aldrich said she expects the MGH trustees to review the plan in August.

“The one real positive thing for us is having the relationships and trust already built in Charlestown, Revere and Chelsea with our existing coalitions,” said Aldrich. “That is very big and an advantage that takes about a year’s worth of work away.”