Are You Making an Impact? Evaluating the Population Health Impact of Community Benefit Programs

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Abstract

Context:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes a change to the IRS 990 Schedule H, requiring nonprofit hospitals to submit a community health needs assessment every 3 years. Such health care entities are challenged to evaluate the effectiveness of community benefit programs addressing the health needs identified.

Objective:

In an effort to determine the population health impact of community benefit programs in 1 hospital outreach department, researchers and staff conducted an impact evaluation to develop priority areas and overarching goals along with program- and department-level objectives.

Design:

The longitudinal impact evaluation study design consists of retrospective and prospective secondary data analyses.

Setting:

As an urban pediatric hospital, St Louis Children's Hospital provides an array of community benefit programs to the surrounding community.

Participants:

Hospital staff and researchers came together to form an evaluation team. Data from program evaluation and administrative data for analysis were provided by hospital staff.

Main Outcome Measure:

Impact scores were calculated by scoring objectives as met or unmet and averaged across goals to create impact scores that measure how closely programs meet the overarching departmental mission and goals.

Results:

Over the 4-year period, there is an increasing trend in program-specific impact scores across all programs except one, Healthy Kids Express Asthma, which had a slight decrease in year 4 only.

Implications:

Current work in measuring and assessing the population health impact of community benefit programs is mostly focused on quantifying dollars invested into community benefit work rather than measuring the quality and impact of services. This article provides a methodology for measuring population health impact of community benefit programs that can be used to evaluate the effort of hospitals in providing community benefit. This is particularly relevant in our changing health care climate, as hospitals are being asked to justify community benefit and make meaningful contributions to population health. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes a change to the IRS 990 Schedule H, requiring nonprofit hospitals to submit a community health needs assessment every 3 years, and requires evaluation of program effectiveness; yet, it does not require any quantification of the impact of community benefit programs. The IRS Schedule H 990 policies could be strengthened by requiring an impact evaluation such as outlined in this article.

Conclusion:

As hospitals are being asked to justify community benefit and make meaningful contributions to population health, impact evaluations can be utilized to demonstrate the cumulative community benefit of programs and assess population health impact of community benefit programs.

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