One Washington lawmaker is hoping that requiring hospitals to assess community health every three years will result in them better meeting community health needs.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, introduced a bill that would require public hospital districts such as the Kennewick Public Hospital District and nonprofit hospitals such as Lourdes Medical Center and Kadlec Regional Medical Center, to perform a community health needs assessment once every three years.
Hospitals also would have to draft a plan for how to serve the community within a year after completing each assessment.
The requirements mirror those in the federal health care reform bill passed in 2010, but Jinkins said she thinks that it is appropriate for the state to adopt a similar law because hospitals get tax breaks in Washington because of their nonprofit status, and they should be demonstrating to the state that they are providing benefits to their communities.
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"This bill is about making sure hospitals really are engaging with their communities and what their community health needs are," she told the Herald.
She said hospitals now demonstrate their community benefit by providing charity care -- basically free health care to people who can't pay.
But once the health reform law's provisions go fully into effect in 2014, more people will be insured and there won't be as much need to provide charity care, she said.
She hopes that will allow hospitals to shift away from providing uncompensated care to the uninsured and toward more community-based care that addresses community needs.
Tri-City hospitals, in partnership with the Benton Franklin Community Health Alliance, are undergoing such a community health needs assessment right now.
The assessment started last fall and is expected to take about 18 months to complete.
A committee made up of representatives from the local health care and business communities, as well as higher education institutions and public agencies, are working to answer questions about the Tri-Cities' most pressing health needs and issues and how the local health care system can address them.
One immediate issue identified by participants at an inaugural meeting in August is the fragmentation of services in the two counties.
The local health and social service network has multiple access points, duplication of services and can be confusing to people trying to navigate their way through, participants said.
Carol Moser, executive director of the health alliance, said the work group has drafted a vision statement for the assessment and is nearing the data-collection phase during which Washington State University Tri-Cities nursing students will work with community mentors to gather data through telephone surveys and other interviews.
Once data is collected, participants will dive deeper into the issues identified and work toward a set of goals and strategies.
Ultimately, the group will produce a report about the state of health in the two counties.