To improve care, Philly-area hospitals examine challenges of neighborhoods

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A report mandated by the Affordable Care Act is helping 18 Philadelphia-area public hospitals learn how to improve their health care.

The report focuses on communities and their needs, which meant going into neighborhoods and interviewing individuals served by the hospitals. Dr. Raynard Washington with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health says they learned it's not easy for people to find the resources they need.

"A common theme is additional supports to help people navigate the very complex healthcare and health resource systems that we have," Washington said.

"The assessment really sort of covers the full gamut of community health. So we ask individual communities a lot about what things are pressing them. We look at a lot of data sources."

In the report, he explains, they outline 16 high-priority community health needs for Southeastern Pennsylvania.

"At the top of that list really are issues related to substance use and behavioral health, in part driven by the opioid epidemic," Washington said.

But there are also social factors that affect a person's overall health.

"In neighborhoods that have lots of poor people, they also tend to have lower access to healthy foods, higher access to unhealthy products like cigarettes and alcohol outlets," he said.

"Having neighborhoods and communities that don't make it easy to live a healthy life and people with complex home circumstances really sort of drive many of the disparities that we see across communities in the region."

He says this is the first time they took a collaborative, hollistic approach with the study to address community health issues.

"Being able to actually stop thinking about hospitals as independent institutions and think about them as part of an ecosystem is really a way that we, the Health Department, really want to sort of move the needle in terms of thinking about hospitals and healthcare," he said.

Washington says the goal of the report is to help the public hospitals that serve these communities determine the best way to reinvest their money to improve health outcomes.