CDC: Hospitals must evaluate, improve community benefit programs

Community benefit programs can help hospitals meet federal requirements to maintain their non-profit status and improve population health, according to a review abstract published in a special issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved that focused on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health reviewed 106 scientific articles that documented how non-profit hospitals adjusted their existing community benefit programs to maintain their tax-exempt status. The documentation also detailed use of ACA-required community health needs assessments, which can help hospitals understand their population base.

Programs fell in two categories, according to the researchers--those based in a hospital and those administered at a community facility. Hospital programs involved preventive screenings and health education, while community facilities provided post-hospital care and coverage counseling programs.

"More than 80 percent of the community-based programs included a community partner, which can facilitate greater reach into a community," said lead author Jessica Burke, Ph.D., associate professor of community and behavioral health sciences at Pitt Public Health, in a study announcement. "The more you can engage the community in the benefit programs you are trying to provide, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome."

Programs to enhance patient care (25 percent), clinic-based programs (28 percent) and programs with a community partner (31 percent) made up the majority of community benefit programs. But few organizations rigorously evaluate the programs or provide evidence of the program's impact. Hospitals should work with public health professionals to design, implement and evaluate their community benefit programs, according to the researchers.

"By working with public health professionals, hospitals can design and implement effective community benefit programs, such as preventative care outreach, that will improve the health of people in their service area and ultimately support continued nonprofit status," Burke said.  

Hospitals that reported $100 million in total operating costs spent an average of more than $11 million on benefits to the community, with roughly $6 million for patients in financial need, the American Hospital Association noted in 2013, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the review abstract
- read the study announcement