Column: Assessment guides Saint Alphonsus efforts to address Ontario community needs

(Enterprise file photo)

One of the most gratifying parts of my job as president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center – Ontario is seeing the good that our hospital does in Ontario and the communities of Malheur, Payette and Washington counties. As I prepare to step down as president of the hospital, I want to highlight some of the partnerships in the community and programs we supported to make our community a better place to live.

Every three years, our hospital completes a Community Health Needs Assessment as a comprehensive review of local health data, such as poverty rates, housing burden, food security, chronic disease rates, etc., as well as a deep investigation into what residents themselves feel are the most significant health needs through surveys, focus groups, and interviews.  We have just released our 2020 assessment, and it will help guide how Saint Alphonsus meets the most pressing needs of our citizens.

The assessment allows us to be responsible stewards of our resources and target our efforts and financial investments where there is the greatest need and increased potential for effectiveness. What began as an IRS requirement for accountable care organizations has been leveraged by Saint Alphonsus to gain insights into the needs and assets of the communities we serve, identify and address the needs of vulnerable populations within our community, enhance relationships and opportunities for community action, and provide information for community outreach planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Since the 2017 assessment, we have strategically targeted investments and hospital resources to address nutrition, physical activity, and healthy weight status, education, and access to health services as the most significant health needs. Our athletic trainers treated almost 4,000 student-athletes at local high schools. Saint Alphonsus Ontario supported the Treasure Valley Technical program by serving as an educational site for Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) students, providing speakers and mentors to classes/students, acting in an advisory role for the technical program’s board and CNA programs, providing supplies for classes, and providing free medical screenings to allow CNA students to be licensed in the state of Oregon. Between 2017-2019, the program reached 800 students.

Saint Alphonsus Ontario also provided leadership staff to the Malheur County Poverty to Prosperity organization working to develop additional educational programs for local high school and community college students, as well as the underemployed in the community.

The 2020 Community Health Needs Assessment puts a heavy emphasis on the social influencers of health. While understanding health behaviors and rates of disease is important, Saint Alphonsus Ontario also recognizes that health happens within the context of a community. A person’s health is largely influenced by where they live, how much education they have, what their wages are, and what resources they have available to them.

This is why the 2020 assessment identified the following most significant health needs: safe, affordable housing and homelessness, financial stability and cost of living (i.e. housing, transportation, childcare, etc.), mental health and well-being, substance use including tobacco and vape, childcare and education, access to healthcare including oral health, chronic diseases, wages and job availability, sexually transmitted infections, access to birth control and teen pregnancy, food security, transportation, and physical activity and recreation opportunities.

While the 2020 data collection was completed prior to Covid-19, it is important to recognize the assets and challenges the community was facing before so that we may best target our efforts for recovery after. Particularly considering the data showing that older adults, communities of color, and people experiencing financial hardships prior to Covid-19 have been impacted at much higher rates both in terms of health and economic outcomes.

While there will soon be a new leader here at your local hospital, rest assured, Saint Alphonsus Ontario is committed to investing time, resources, and ongoing efforts into learning more about the intersections of these priorities and how we can best serve our community as a healthcare partner for life. I am proud of all we accomplished together, and despite the challenges we currently face, I know the future is bright for our hospital and our community.

Kenneth Hart(Submitted photo)

Ken Hart wrapped up his tenure at the helm of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center – Ontario recently, and is starting a new job as chief financial officer for Valley Family Health.