News Detail

Coalition Topples Barriers to Health Access


A collaboration between the city’s two hospitals, which has helped remove roadblocks that have made it difficult for low-income residents in two neighborhoods to receive health care, will extend their partnership to include immigrants and the chronically homeless.

Springfield Memorial Hospital and HSHS St. John’s Hospital have partnered together on the community project, named the Access-to-Health Collaborative, since 2015. Their alliance first focused on bolstering the health needs of Springfield’s Enos Park and later grew to include another neighborhood, Pillsbury Mills, directly east of Enos Park.

The Access-to-Health Collaborative is one of several initiatives being expanded or carried out following the 2021 community health needs assessment, a requirement from the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that directs nonprofit hospitals to complete an assessment every three years to identify and prioritize the significant health needs of the communities they serve.

The nonprofit hospitals will once again contribute up to $250,000 each to fund a program for the next three years run by SIU Office of Community Care, which will use community health workers to meet residents where they are and help remove barriers to health care, including helping people find employment, keep up with their appointments, find transportation or secure a family doctor.

Hospital officials recognize that the quality of health care people receive is based on what they call the social determinants of health, which includes factors such as income and socioeconomic status, employment and working conditions, education and literacy, and physical environment. The quality of health care that some people receive cannot be improved until progress is made on diminishing these “social determinants.”

“Improving the health of individuals and communities requires a focus on equity of access, treatments and outcomes,” said Kimberly Luz, division director of community outreach for HSHS Illinois Hospitals. “Quality health care can only be achieved when we address and overcome determinants of health to ensure people have opportunities and resources based on their unique needs.”

Working with the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, the hospitals sought feedback from 20 focus groups to identify the priorities for the next three-year cycle. Organizers sought out a greater diversity in representation among the groups, which included the Springfield Black Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network, Hispanic Women of Springfield, Islamic Society of Greater Springfield and the Springfield Urban League.

The participants identified the need to reach out to groups who have challenges navigating the health care system, such as immigrants and the homeless, and to address the inequities that affect the health of marginalized groups in the community.

“High-quality health care should be accessible to everyone,” said Becky Gabany, system director of community health for Memorial Health. “Yet we know the hard truth is that there are wide disparities between health care resources and outcomes received by people of color and white people. As health care professionals, we have a responsibility to narrow and eliminate that gap in services and results.”

For the first time, Springfield Memorial Hospital and HSHS St. John’s Hospital identified the same health priorities. They plan to explore opportunities to collaborate as they address those issues through fiscal years 2022 through 2024. They are economic disparities, access to health, and mental and behavioral health.

The priority of mental and behavioral health will be the focus of all five Memorial Health hospitals as well as all nine HSHS Illinois hospitals.

The Sangamon County Department of Public Health also set priorities. They are economic disparities, access to health, housing safety and chronic conditions – education and resources.