A Rural Local Health Department–Hospital Collaborative for a Countywide Community Health Assessment

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In mid-2012, the Polk County Health Department initiated a community health needs assessment process with the 3 medical centers serving this rural Wisconsin county of 45 000 residents. The collaborative process drew on primary and secondary data, including clinical data pooled from health care organizations, to assess population health. Community health assessment ultimately engaged more than 1800 county residents through coordinated surveys and community forums. Although the Polk County Health Department has a long history of collaboration with the local health care community, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, coupled with meaningful use requirements for health care providers, sharply increased engagement, contributed to shared priorities, and brought this relationship to a new level. Partners have now convened community-based workgroups around the top 3 health focus areas selected from the assessment process. Community health assessment emphasized the social determinants of health as a step toward a more “upstream” orientation to population health goals.

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