April 18, 2024

‘We work better together’: Idaho health organizations collaborate in health needs assessment | Regional News

For the first time in Idaho history, Community Health Needs Assessment data was collected as a collaborative community effort, with many health organizations on the same assessment cycle.

​​​​The joint CHNA found that safe and affordable housing, access to affordable health care, and behavioral health—including mental health and substance abuse treatments—are the most urgent health needs of more than half of Idaho residents.

“This opportunity provided us with a unique space to collaborate in a way that we haven’t done before,” said Director of Community Impact at United Way Treasure Valley, Megan Remaley. “We strongly believe that when we have a deliberate partnership in the work we can go further, we can go faster … we know that when we do it together we will have significant results.”

This year’s assessment was a multi-agency initiative conducted by the Western Idaho Community Health Cooperative with participation and funding from Central Health, Southwest Area Health, Saint Alphonsus Health System, and St. Luke’s Health System, among others.

Ada, Adams, Boise, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Valley and Washington were the 10 counties assessed in the CoCHNA. The assessment is a collection of 3,000 survey responses, 67 focus groups and interviews, said Alexis Pickering, West Idaho Community Health Collaborative Program Manager.

The collaborative approach included significant community input and use of the social determinants of health framework, identifying priority areas. Those priorities — affordable housing, access to affordable health care, and behavioral health — were consistently emphasized across 10 counties, regardless of how rural or suburban the communities were, Pickering said.

“This is not just a community problem, it is something that is felt regionally. And I don’t think that will surprise a lot of people, but I think we now have the data to prove that,” Pickering said. “I think the beauty of this regional assessment is that we’re taking the time to get those rural voices and those urban voices, I think there’s a universal need to have these solutions.”

Historically, many of the organizations that collaborated on this assessment conducted individual community health assessments every three years, per federal requirement, resulting in slightly different data points for the same communities, said Angie Gribble, senior director of community health and engagement at St. Luke’s. Because of this, each organization had different timelines and processes, capturing data differently and resulting in different action plans to address these assessments.

“This new approach is so transformative,” Gribble said. “We’re excited to be a part of this plan, because I think we can bring our own organizational strengths collaboratively.”

That’s what makes this year’s CHNA so unique: Its health partners are aligning for the first time, working to solve community problems together. And it is exactly that alignment that will help health organizations begin to solve the problems outlined in the assessment, Pickering said.

“We work better together,” Pickering said.

Data collection began with community surveys taken by people in doctor’s office waiting rooms, community fairs, farmers markets and other forms of outreach, Remaley said. Focus groups were held with anyone who would participate, Remaley said.

“We were eager, especially to speak to communities that don’t often have the opportunity to share their voice,” said Remaley. “We rely on the voice of our community to help shape how we work in the community, so it helps us encourage our partners to find solutions to the needs they have brought to our attention by being able to understand from our community what their greatest needs are, what they want us to focus on.”

The demographic that completed the surveys was mostly white women over 60, according to Pickering.

Gribble said survey questions asked about the adequate resources people have in their communities and the daily challenges people face in their respective counties.

“These are incredibly complex problems that none of us can do alone,” Gribble said. “I feel that the depth of data is richer and will help us be more focused on what we do about the needs, and the high-level priorities seem to be in line with what we would expect.”

In interviews and focus groups, it became clear that the top three priority needs intersected, conflicting with needs for health, job security, transportation, childcare and general well-being, Pickering said. People have identified and understood, through a survey or an interview, the depth of the issues they face, said Pickering.

“We are not blind to the challenges that exist in living here. It’s a beautiful, wonderful place to be for many reasons, but it can be challenging because of the cost of living, because of access to care,” Pickering said. “I don’t think this is isolated to just Idaho. I think this is a challenge facing the country. But what sets us apart is that we’re now thinking, okay, how we all play a role in this. So what can we do about it?”

While health organizations will work together to create an implementation plan in the coming months, the assessment data can serve as a guiding light for Idaho legislators, as their decisions often directly affect housing, jobs and transportation.

“Our hope is that all community partners and decision makers will have an opportunity to influence some of these needs, some of these challenges and ultimately use this assessment as appropriate to guide their level of influence,” said Gribble.

Regardless of how the assessment will factor into future decisions, community health partners in Idaho are committed to finding solutions to affordable housing, access to affordable health care, and access to behavioral health options.

“I want to honor these results,” Pickering said. “I think it shows how deeply committed our population is to being here and getting to work despite these challenges. And it’s up to us with the tools we have to see what we can do to make life better, and make it a little easier for people to live a healthy, successful life.”

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