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Hospitals Join Forces to Strengthen Health Access


For the first time since nonprofit hospitals were required to submit a plan outlining how they would address urgent health needs in their community, Decatur’s two hospitals will work together on projects designed to remove roadblocks to access health services.

Since 2010, the Affordable Care Act has required nonprofit hospitals to prepare what’s called a community health needs assessment every three years. HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital and Decatur Memorial Hospital have been submitting separate assessments, in which hospitals lay out their plans for how they will address their community’s urgent health needs.

For this latest cycle covering fiscal years 2022 through 2024, the hospitals committed to teaming up on joint projects to improve the health of the region. The hospitals have begun meeting to identify potential projects.

“High-quality health care should be accessible to everyone,” said Sonja Chargois, community health and equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator at Decatur Memorial Hospital. “Yet we know the hard truth is that there are wide disparities between health care resources and outcomes that many people receive. As health care professionals, we have a responsibility to narrow and eliminate that gap in services and results.”

Hospital officials recognize that the quality of health care people receive is based on what they call the social determinants of health, which include 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 Macon County Health Department, the two nonprofit hospitals sought feedback from 10 focus groups to identify health priorities for the next three-year cycle. Organizers sought out a greater diversity in representation among the groups, which included the United Way, the NAACP and Divine 9 Sororities and Fraternities.

HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital and Decatur Memorial Hospital each identified the same three health priorities for the region for the next three fiscal years. They are mental and behavioral health, economic disparities and access to health. HSHS St. Mary’s also identified a fourth health priority – child abuse and neglect.

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 Macon County Health Department also selected its health priorities, which are mental and behavioral health, child abuse and neglect, and substance use and misuse, including opioids, tobacco and vaping.