Why Don't Hospitals Prioritize Substance Abuse in Their Community Benefit Programming?

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Abstract

The goal of this study was to understand whether Appalachian Ohio hospitals prioritized substance abuse in their IRS-mandated community health needs assessments (CHNAs) and if not, what factors were important in this decision. Analysis of CHNA reports from all 28 hospitals in the region supplemented interview data from in-depth phone interviews, with 17 participants tasked with overseeing CHNAs at 21 hospitals. The CHNA reports show that hospitals in this region prioritize substance abuse and mental health less often than access to care and obesity. Interviews suggest 4 reasons: lack of resources, risk aversion, concern about hospital expertise, and stigma related to substance abuse. Hospitals are playing a larger role in public health as a result of CHNA requirements but resist taking on challenging problems such as substance abuse. The report concludes by summarizing concrete steps to ensure that community benefit efforts address pressing health problems. The implications of this study are manifest in concrete recommendations for encouraging hospitals to address pressing health problems in their community benefit efforts.

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