In 2010, amidst health care reform and state and federal fiscal crises, St. Mary’s Health and Deaconess Health System, both located in Evansville, faced a question familiar to anyone working in health care at the time: With dwindling resources, how do we improve the quality of care we provide to our communities? Their answer? Collaboration.
The two health care systems formed Healthy Southwest Indiana, a partnership intended to create a common understanding of community needs, gaps and priorities—and how to use that data to advance the well-being of Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties, as well as the broader tri-state area.
Deaconess and St. Mary’s collaborated on the Affordable Care Act’s mandatory Community Health Needs Assessment in 2013, working closely with local partners at ECHO Community Health Care, United Way of Southwestern Indiana and the Welborn Baptist Foundation to identify the areas of greatest priority for Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties.
“We worked on the premise that what was good for the community was good for all health care providers,” says Linda E. White, president and CEO of Deaconess Health System. “We knew we could not make any type of improvements in isolation.”
The Community Health Needs Assessment revealed some of the same challenges facing many counties across Indiana, ranging from low immunization rates and child abuse to obesity and decreased access to mental health services. “It became evident that we had to cast the net even wider to be able to solve those problems,” says Keith Jewell, president of St. Mary’s Health.
And that’s exactly what they did.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO BE WELL
The core members of Healthy Southwest Indiana recruited community partners to form task forces that would address each priority identified during the Community Health Needs Assessment.
CARING FOR CHILDREN
One such task force was the St. Mary’s Health Child Abuse Task Force Team. Established in 2011, the team is comprised of physicians, nurses, chaplains and case managers who review cases monthly to better serve and advocate for children who are known to have suffered abuse. In addition to members from Deaconess and St. Mary’s, the task force has grown to include more than 60 participants from the Sheriff’s Office, Vanderburgh County Health Department and the Department of Child Services, to name a few.
EDUCATING THE COMMUNITY ON BEHAVIORAL HEATH ISSUES
In an effort to address deficiencies in behavioral health awareness and treatment, Healthy Southwest Indiana created the Behavioral Health Task Force, which includes nearly 50 people representing a range of organizations. Early in their history, the task force implemented the Youth Mental Health First Aid program, providing in-person training to teach people how to recognize signs of addiction and mental illness in others and how to connect those suffering to the appropriate resources.
In 2015, the collaborative applied for a Youth Mental Health First Aid federal grant in order to expand their existing program. “We got enough money to be able to train 700 people that work with children to identify mental health issues,” notes Jewell. “To date, we’ve increased our number of trainers from two to 15 and have trained 260 people total. We’re training fire departments and teachers— not just the people you’d typically think of as those involved in child mental health treatment.”
INCREASING IMMUNIZATION RATES
In 2014, the Vanderburgh County Health Department formed an Immunization Coalition with partners ranging from the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and 4-C of Southern Indiana to the Community Patient Safety Coalition and Oswald Marketing.
In 2013, only 52 percent of Vanderburgh County children ages 19 to 35 months were vaccinated, compared to the Indiana average of 60 percent. In 2016, as a result of the Immunization Coalition’s hard work, 71 percent of Vanderburgh County children received vaccinations, a 36.5 percent increase.
As these task forces and initiatives suggest, Healthy Southwest Indiana has grown significantly in number and in reach since it was established in 2011. What started as a partnership between a handful of health providers has blossomed into a 45-partner-strong initiative to improve the health of the broader community.
“Success begets success,” says Jewell. “Some things have worked well, others haven’t. But it’s been a real spirit of cooperation from the beginning.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
While Healthy Southwest Indiana has achieved a great deal in its short history, the group refuses to rest on its laurels. The collaborative recently completed its 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment and has identified a new set of priorities, including exercise, weight and nutrition, child health, substance abuse, behavioral health and cancer.
They’ve also been more intentional about marketing their efforts to the community and sharing the information they’ve gathered over the past five years. In January of 2016, Deaconess and St. Mary’s funded the launch of healthyswin.org, a user-friendly, one-stop-shop for community members and policymakers interested in local health data, resources, best practices, news and information about community health events.
White recommends that any health care providers considering launching an initiative like Healthy SWIN should forget about competition. “Take off your competitive hats and understand the value of creating healthier populations for the people you serve. It really is all about relationships and sitting at the table to keep the patient as the center of our universe.”
Jewell recommends that any health care providers considering launching an initiative of this magnitude look outside the hospital world and into their community for partnership opportunities. “It’s not just two hospitals working together or multiple hospitals; it’s your qualified health centers, universities, school corporations and local Boys and Girls Club—they all play a role in improving the health of the community. I would encourage anyone interested in addressing their community’s health challenges to build a broad
coalition and commit to doing what they can to make the community a better place to live and raise a family. By doing that, everyone will win.”