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Community partnerships in health care

In the simplest of terms, healthcare is about people taking care of people. For most healthcare organizations, this goes beyond just treating injury and illness within the space of any one brick building. Rather, it’s about ensuring that the people within a community are healthier through education, support and resources made possible by programs that take place in schools, area nonprofits and local businesses.The responsibility to care for the communities in which they exist is a great one for many healthcare organizations, and it’s changing as fast as the healthcare industry. As baby boomers age, rates of obesity continue to climb and the number of Americans suffering from chronic illnesses increases, education and support will be paramount to public health. But hospitals and clinics can’t do it alone.

That’s where community partnerships come in.

Community partnerships forge bonds between healthcare organizations and local businesses and nonprofits in order to work together to meet the health needs and improve the quality of life for a community. From job trainings to smoking cessation classes to school immunizations and health literacy, community partnerships offer healthcare organizations the opportunity to better the health of others while increasing visibility and brand awareness—a win-win for everyone involved.

Whether this is a new idea for your organization or you’re seasoned veterans, take a look at the following examples of great community partnerships to become inspired today.

Sponsorships and events
Perhaps the easiest to implement, many hospitals make the foray into community partnerships by sponsoring events held by like-minded organizations. Marathons, health fairs, Red Dress galas, and more provide the perfect opportunity for hospitals and clinics to promote awareness, health and education while getting their names in the public’s eye to forge relationships with community members and other organizations. Sponsorship can come in a variety of forms, mainly monetary or in-kind. Donate event space, free health screenings, water bottles, refreshments, logo’d gift bags, or silent auction items like a 7-piece picnic set or fancy utensil set.

Health literacy and community education
Going beyond spreading the word is actually hosting events and developing programs that serve to educate community members. Partnering with other health organizations, businesses, nonprofits or government agencies enables hospitals and clinics to offer a wider variety of these services to a greater population—think: Power in numbers.

Smoking cessation programs, nutrition education and classes meant to decipher complex medical terms and prescription information are all great examples. Identifying the need in your community for such programs is the first step.

In Kentucky, 38 percent of all deaths are the result of heart disease or stroke, a striking statistic which inspired St. Elizabeth Healthcare to partner with 49 organizations—including schools, physicians, churches, businesses, county and state health departments — to create the Northern Kentucky Women’s Cardiovascular Assessment, Risk Reduction and Education (CARE) Collaborative. Timed to capitalize on a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant for hospitals collaborating with community partners, the CARE Collaborative raises awareness about hypertension and encourages women, as well as men and children, to adopt healthy lifestyle habits through its “Know Your Numbers!” campaign. Activities include blood pressure screenings, cardiovascular health education and intensive lifestyle interventions when needed.

Spread the word of similar partnerships through media releases, direct mail to target audiences and public service announcements. Distribute freebies like pens, pocket health guides or pedometers to help build awareness and interest.

Care coordination
The most ambitious of community partnerships, those that tackle coordination of care for the most vulnerable populations, also stand to make the biggest impact. For example, after a community needs assessment identified the lack of access to healthcare as a priority, the Carroll County Board of Health and the Board of Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster, Maryland partnered to work collaboratively and improve the health of residents. The Partnership for a Healthier Community grew and became a non-profit organization devoted to community health improvement. A direct result was Access Carroll, a clinic that provides free healthcare to uninsured, low-income county residents who meet certain eligibility requirements.

There are a variety of opportunities for community partnerships in healthcare. As long as organizations choose those that align with a mission and are developed in-line with a community partnership budget, community partnerships can help hospitals and clinics do what they do best: Take care of their communities.

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