Community engagement is the process by which individuals from the community, stakeholder organizations and hospitals work collaboratively to identify needs most important to residents and pursue meaningful strategies to address those needs.
Making community engagement a central component of the community health assessment process is mutually beneficial to hospitals and communities.
Benefits for Your Hospital
- A clearer understanding of the community served by your hospital, including specific health issues, their root causes and the availability of resources and assets to address them.
- Strengthened bonds between community and hospital, leading to increased collaboration around priority issues.
- Greater community buy-in and a sense of shared ownership of and commitment to community health.
- Stronger relationships with individuals and organizations that are assets for improving community health.
- Healthier communities where individuals have access to preventive care and seek care at the appropriate level, potentially leading to lower costs for the hospital.
Benefits for Your Community
- A different perspective of the community and the hospital’s role in health promotion.
- Improved communication between community and hospital, contributing to increased collaboration, mutual respect and understanding.
- A sense of shared ownership and commitment to the community health assessment (CHA) process and any subsequent community coalitions or collaborative improvement efforts.
- The ability to apply knowledge and experiences to improve the health of the community.
- Building involvement and investment in the short- and long-range success of the CHA process.
- The opportunity for leadership development and capacity-building.
- The potential for a healthier community.
Identify an engagement approach
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to community engagement; the scope of engagement depends on hospital and community factors and preferences. The figure below presents a spectrum of levels of community engagement in the CHA process.
Source: Health Research & Educational Trust. (2016, June). Engaging patients and communities in the community health needs assessment process. Chicago, IL: Health Research & Educational Trust. Accessed at: www.hpoe.org/engagingCHNA
While all of these approaches will meet the requirements for your CHA, emphasizing more robust partnerships can enhance the quality and impact of the CHA process. Engaging communities at an advanced level requires a concerted effort and time to activate and sustain the relationship. Fostering a sense of joint ownership of the assessment — thereby making the community a part of the process, rather than the subject of it — will improve the chances that your CHA will achieve its desired impact, which in turn paves the road toward building a healthier community.
Community engagement should be an ongoing and thoughtful process. Be sure to set reasonable expectations for community members’ involvement, and coordinate your efforts with other organizations so that the same individuals are not tapped for multiple assessments. It is important to be culturally sensitive to the needs, norms and values of the community, including recruiting participants in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner
Engage a range of stakeholders from the community and hospital
You can gain perspectives on the community from soliciting input from a wide range of community members. A community member is any resident of a particular geographic area, including anyone who lives or works within that area. The list below describes subgroups of people from your community and hospital that can be engaged in a CHA process.
Patients and caregivers: Patients are individuals who have received any sort of health care. Caregivers are individuals who serve a patient care role, such as relatives — a parent, child, brother, aunt — or a significant other, friend or neighbor. Individuals who have interacted with the health care system may have nuanced insights into how your hospital addresses the health needs of the community.
Volunteers: Volunteers include those who freely offers their time, services, and/or skills within the hospital or health care system. These can include individuals who are part of the community, patients and/or family member groups.
Hospital staff: Hospital staff includes hospital administrators, CHA developers, community benefit staff, clinicians, social workers, community health workers, etc. Increasing engagement in the CHA process within your hospital strengthens relationships across departments and professions.
Hospital leadership: Hospital leadership – C-suite executives and trustees – may be particularly strong partners in a CHA process, as they can advocate for the integration of prioritized community health needs into operations and link population health management strategies with the CHA.
Populations experiencing healthy disparities: It is particularly important to reach out to populations that are known to have significant health challenges, such as economically disadvantaged individuals, homeless persons, legal and illegal immigrants, prisoners, the elderly, physically and developmentally challenged individuals, pregnant women and children living in poverty, and members of medically underserved and minority populations or their representatives. It is particularly important to build relationship with these individuals, as any implementation strategies may address their community's health needs.
Stakeholder organizations: CHA stakeholder organizations may be public or private entities from a wide range of sectors interested in the health of community members. Engaging stakeholders from a wide range of sectors allows diverse perspectives to be represented. Organizations that serve communities with health disparities can provide unique insights and function as implementation strategy partners. The table below suggests potential partners in a CHA process.
Community Sectors and Groups to Consider for Partnership in the CHA Process
|Sector||Examples of Individuals and Organizations|
|Agriculture/food suppliers||Farmers (including farmers’ markets), food banks/pantries, restaurants|
|Business||Self-employed individuals, small businesses, corporations with local offices|
|Community information||Libraries, 2-1-1 systems, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, social media, blogs, online news magazines, non-English media outlets|
|Culture||Theaters, orchestras, museums, galleries, supporters of the arts|
|Education||Public and private K–12 schools, preschools/early childhood education, colleges and universities, boards of education, English as a second language programs, teachers, school administrators, homeschool organizations, charter schools|
|Environment||Environmental advocacy organizations, conservation land trusts, environmentalists, hunters/fishers, biologists, outdoor enthusiasts|
|Government||Regional, provincial, state and local governments; tribal governing bodies; elected officials; public health agencies; planning departments|
|Health care||Patients; caregivers; medical, dental and mental health providers; hospitals and health care systems; community clinics/federally qualified health centers; alternative health practitioners; health insurance companies; retail clinics; ambulance companies/paramedics|
|Housing and development||Public and nonprofit housing agencies, organizations that provide rent subsidies or affordable housing, developers, fair-housing advocates|
|Public safety||Local and state police, court systems, judges, probation officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers, prisons and jails, fire departments|
|Public health||State, tribal, local and territorial health departments; public health institutes; nonprofit organizations|
|Religion||Places of worship and their members and associated organizations|
|Service/fraternal organizations||Lions, Masons, Rotary, Kiwanis, American Association of University Women, college fraternities and sororities|
|Social services||United Way; nonprofit organizations that provide services such as job training, food, shelter, elder services, services for individuals with disabilities and advocacy for immigrants|
|Sports and recreation||Sports clubs, park and recreation departments, athletic associations, YMCAs, gyms, coaches, athletes, sports spectators and supporters|
|Transportation||Public transit, bicycle advocates, transportation departments, safe routes to school programs|
|Volunteers and activists||Political activists, block/neighborhood associations, community coalitions|
|Youth||Individuals under 18 and the organizations that work with them, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts
Community stakeholders vary by community, and this is not an exhaustive list of potential partners. Mapping out community assets early in the process can illuminate unexpected stakeholders or partners to engage in the CHA process.
It is vital to be accountable and responsible to those community stakeholders who contribute time and energy to the process. Engaging, thanking and reporting back to those stakeholders who have been involved can flow naturally into planning the next CHA together.
See Step 2 for more information on identifying and engaging stakeholders.