Throughout the pandemic, US healthcare organizations have balanced the daily needs of providing care with planning for the long-term impact left by the virus. Providers and patients alike have helped executives to narrow their strategic focus and identify opportunities for innovation and improvement. As technology has rapidly advanced to meet the demand for Telehealth services and regulations have rolled back to accommodate the changing financial and operational circumstances within provider organizations, new conversations around the culture of care have emerged. These discussions are focused on aligning the needs of the community with the services provided by the hospitals and health systems and could lead to more collaborative, productive relationships going forward.
Calling Attention to Community Needs
Over the last decade, the US healthcare industry has worked towards a change from volume-based to value-based care, leading hospitals and other provider organizations to reignite their focus on meeting the needs of their individual communities. This includes ideas such as establishing outlets for care that occurs outside the walls of the hospital and healthcare organizations partnering with school districts to support at-risk students.
Efforts to redefine the role of the hospital have come into sharper focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, as hospitals across the country saw their communities struggle, while facing a dramatic rise in requests for digital health services and a significant drop in patients who are willing to come into the hospital for care. Additionally, the need to address population health issues is moving to the forefront due to the rise in mental and emotional health challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Creating a Culture of Care
Organizations creating value by putting a stronger focus on listening to the needs and challenges of their community are focusing efforts in some very specific areas to ensure a culture of care remains central to their mission. Some of these steps include:
1. Looking for partnerships at all levels of the community.
Some hospitals have reported success in partnering with large, community-based organizations, while others have shared stories about smaller, niche-focused groups that have helped them gain insight into their patient populations. The lesson learned here is that it isn’t necessarily the size of the organization that determines if it will be a successful partner, rather it is the organization’s knowledge of and connection to the community.
2. Maintaining a focus on collaboration and consistency.
Executives who have established a clear community-needs focus within their organization report that maintaining open lines of communication is critical to success. There must be clearly established goals and responsibilities, as well as a clear plan for what information will be shared between community partners. Establishing trust by following through on sharing information and making good on promises goes a long way to ensuring new partners remain committed to the shared goals.
Collaboration also plays a crucial role in establishing a community-focused culture. In order to be successful in meeting the needs of the community, the needs of the hospital or health system must be met, as well. To reach an outcome where both sides benefit, each community partnership needs to be rooted inconsistent communication. To achieve this, some organizations have designated specific meeting times to review their processes plans with their partners, others have implemented shared dashboards that track their goals and still others have created community forums to discuss their partnerships and goals, while including their community members in the discussion.
3. Hardwiring changes.
In order to ensure that changes being made internally are permanent, successful organizations are implementing processes to address common roadblocks. This includes putting processes in place to monitor progress, establishing clearly communicated goals and communicating openly regarding responsibilities and expectations. Within their communities, many organizations are implementing strategies to support their changes by addressing social determinants of health, including supporting local food markets, playgrounds and employment initiatives.
Organizations on this path report that maintaining daily involvement with their patient populations outside of the hospital helps to keep them focused and committed to serving those patients in the best way possible.
4. Building on progress.
Because cultural change is a difficult goal and community needs are constantly evolving, achieving success in this undertaking can be a moving target. Organizations achieving measurable progress say they frequently meet with their partners to discuss their efforts and celebrate even small successes. They report that this touch-point helps to keep all participants committed to their share goals and it reminds team members that each step forward is an important one.
5. Moving beyond the repetitive assessment cycle.
For non-government, not-for-profit facilities, moving beyond the three-year timeline for the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) can be difficult. To break this cycle, many organizations are working alongside their partnerships in the community to gather more targeted data over longer periods of time, allowing a more focused assessment effort that can include many marginalized groups that may be left out of the larger community assessment process. Creating a larger net to gather data can also help to identify new opportunities for growth or service line expansion.
The Right Leadership for Success
Cultural change is difficult to manage and even harder to make permanent. In order to establish, grow or maintain a community-focused culture, it is key to have the right leadership in place. To be successful, executives must have experience building community relationships, leading operational change and managing large-scale cultural shifts. In some cases, this could require the creation of a new position, in other cases responsibilities for existing roles could be re-defined to include a community focus. To learn more about identifying the right skillset or the right candidates for your organization’s leadership needs, connect with the experts at Cejka Search here.