Why hospitals should invest in community health amid the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it apparent that health systems play a big role in community health and need to step up to improve underlying social determinants of health.

During a Dec. 7 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Vizient, industry leaders discussed how the hospital's role in public health has drastically changed in light of COVID-19. Health systems are partnering with Irving, Texas-based Vizient and Skokie, Ill.-based Sg2, a Vizient company, to improve community health and well-being. Vizient is a member-driven, healthcare performance improvement company, and Sg2 provides healthcare systems trends, insights and market analytics. 

The presentation speakers were: 

  • Karyl Kopaskie, PhD, associate principal of intelligence at Sg2, a Vizient Company
  • Shaifali Ray, MHA, senior networks director at Vizient 

Five key points about healthcare systems' role in public health: 

COVID-19's affect on health equity in healthcare delivery

A variety of things determine health outcomes, such as social and community networks, individual lifestyle, age and genetics, Ms. Ray said. Currently, 7.6 million U.S. workers live below the poverty line, two of five adults have two or more chronic illnesses and one of five adults experience mental illness, Dr. Kopaskie noted. "These community pressures contribute to the growing need for healthcare services that take into account social health determinants," Dr. Kopaskie said. 

Data can drive community response to healthcare needs

Government payers are projected to account for 64 percent of the national payer mix by 2024, with the pandemic expected to push this growth further as existing disparities are amplified. The pandemic is exacerbating racial disparities, disproportionately affecting people of color. Vizient evaluated the effect of COVID-19 on inpatient racial/ethnic distributions by age for all available hospitals in the Vizient Clinical Data Base™(CDB™) with data from April-September 2020 (N=566)*. The assessment showed that while Hispanic and Black individuals make up a smaller percent of the U.S. population (18 and 12 percent, respectively), their combined rate of COVID-19 diagnosis accounts for nearly 50 percent. White individuals, on the other hand, make up 60 percent of the nation’s population but only 38 percent of infections. Evaluating data specific to local communities can help healthcare organizations develop population-specific approaches and inform investment strategies, Ms. Ray said.

3 steps for starting  

There are three key areas organizations should focus on, Dr. Kopaskie said. First, organizations should consider what role they are willing and able to play to impact social determinants of health in their community, and ensure their current organizational structure provides the staffing and flexibility needed to meet current and emerging needs. Then, organizations must master the use of existing data and scale it, leveraging their own data with other publicly available data as well. Organizations should then also identify opportunities for external collaboration and partnerships with critical stakeholders in their community, including community members themselves. 

Taking action

Health systems are recognizing that they can advocate for change given their size and role in the community, Dr. Kopaskie said. Organizations should seize the moment and use Vizient's framework to leverage data to tackle needs beyond the immediate medical setting, proactively interpreting data to provide insight on what social determinants of health the system should focus on. Ms. Ray detailed the efforts of three systems. Richmond, Va.-based VCU Health has partnered with local community and health organizations to provide literacy-appropriate education to the Latinx population through visual infographics. Birmingham, Ala.-based UAB Medicine is collaborating with local nursing homes and rehabilitation centers to care for patients suffering from extended COVID-19 illness. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente has invested $63 million in a partnership with the Public Health Institute to train residents as COVID-19 contact tracers and provide long-term career support, according to Ms. Ray.  

Vizient resources 

Vizient has publicly available COVID-19 resources for hospitals. Find guidance, and information on the pandemic and the vaccine,  including webinars and podcasts, and Sg2’s Surge Demand Calculator at vizientinc.com/covid-19

To view the full webinar, click here.

*Data from the Vizient Clinical Data Base/Resource ManagerTM used by permission of Vizient, Inc. All rights reserved. Inpatient and non-Inpatient; Includes all ages; COVID-19 defined by ICD-10 code U07.1 after April 1, 2020, or B97.29 in March 2020 with DRG or principal diagnosis restrictions.   Data retrieved Nov 23,2020. US Population distribution from 2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

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