New literature from American Hospital Association (AHA) states that healthcare organizations working to create community health partnerships to improve health equity and address the social determinants to health must ensure they are on the right page with those they collaborate with.

This recommendation and many others are part of AHA’s Health Equity Resource Series. The fourth and final installment of this series focuses on the building of community health partnerships.

AHA believes that these partnerships are crucial to attaining health equity.

“The goal of advancing health and health equity within communities is more than any one organization, institution or community can accomplish alone,” AHA wrote in the report.

“Multiple stakeholders and influencers need to work together, both within organizations and across sectors.

Hospitals are trusted organizations and economic anchors in their communities; this puts them in the position to be influential partners who can truly advance health equity for the patients they serve.”

AHA stated that most healthcare organizations that are interested in social determinants and equity work in health care start with a community health needs assessment.

This assessment is based on community input and can help organizations assess the community’s current health and identify areas that could be improved.


Laying Out Goals for the Organization

Hospitals and community partners must understand the roles of each stakeholder before they can begin a community intervention. They must also ensure that they all agree on setting goals, selecting a focus population, and measuring final outcomes.

“For partnerships to succeed over the long term, staff need to see collaboration as a strategic priority,” AHA wrote in the report.

“One important way to signal this is by starting these conversations with executive and board-level leadership.

This ensures that the accountability begins at the top and cascades throughout the organization – creating the foundation for shared accountability.”

Aligning the Needs of Community and Hospital

The report authors stated that it is important to look at the needs and wants of the community before embarking on a social determinants strategy. This should be a multi-stakeholder effort.

“Hospitals and health systems should not simply assume what the needs of a community are, but rather set out collaboratively to co-design and develop solutions,” AHA recommended.

“Hospital-community partnership structures can range from informal/loosely affiliated (for example, a task force of cross-sector experts to focus on a singular short-term issue) to more formalized arrangements, such as the creation of a new 501(c)(3) organization.”

Regulating the Various Operation Responsibilities

The report authors stated that partnership goes beyond agreeing on a mission. Hospitals and community partners should instead consider how they will collaborate, logistically speaking.

“Operationally, clearly defined roles and responsibilities should be established, including for current and future partners,” the report noted.

“Formalizing a process through a charter or memorandum of understanding can be helpful for partners to understand their and others’ responsibilities in a collective effort.

Additionally, it is important to agree to pre-established mechanisms for resolving disagreements or differences of opinion.”

Evaluating Community-oriented Partnership Success

Measuring program success will include many common themes, such as improved quality metrics, patient satisfaction, positive feedback, and perceptions of community health improvement.

AHA warned healthcare partners and organizations to continue looking at return on investment as a key component of justifying community investment.

Assigning a family caregiver can also take care of the community members, especially the seniors.

“Additionally, comparing the cost of building community partnerships and strengthening outreach versus the dollar amount of continued patient care that would need to be spent without such hospital-community partnerships, may also tell a story of success,” AHA concluded.

“Measurements of community partnership success rates may reflect both short and long-term impacts, but all should support greater community health outcomes in the future.”

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