Community benefit investments improve population

thumbnail_6Community benefits are charitable contributions that improve the overall health and access to care in a community. Dora Barilla, DrPH, executive leader for community investment, answers questions about how we use community benefit to invest in population health.

What effect has health reform had on community benefit and population health?

The changing needs of our communities provide new opportunities to make investments that can help improve the health and well-being of larger groups of people – what we call population health. It’s good news that more people have health insurance or Medicaid coverage, resulting in less need for charity care.

How does community benefit improve population health?

Today we are elevating our community investments with more intention on removing the barriers that get in the way of improving population health outcomes, such as ensuring access to education, affordable housing or nutritious food. These other factors are referred to as social determinants of health, and are challenging issues that community benefit and population health caregivers can tackle by working together. Until recently, collecting data about and addressing these factors has largely been accomplished through agencies other than health care systems.

What does success look like for community investment and population health?

By linking patient, population and public health data, we can improve and measure health outcomes for whole communities. If you look at our community benefit website, you’ll notice that we talk a lot about our community health needs assessments. These are tools that we use in partnership with other community agencies and organizations to identify gaps in care and services. We have used these assessments for many years to plan the right investments, and are pursuing new opportunities to share and use our findings with the clinical data that population health programs can provide. 

Why do you call community benefit an ‘investment’?

The changes in the health care landscape that I mentioned earlier have increased health system accountability in promoting and improving population health. By using the language "community investment," we move beyond traditional strategies that focus on health care and the treatment of illnesses, to a conversation that addresses the issues which create health in the first place.