Lynchburg, VA (News & Advance) /Health-care providers in Central Virginia are on the last leg of gathering data on resident health as part of a large-scale effort to enact empowering community change.

The Community Health Needs Assessment, which is something Centra is required to do every three years as a system with state-licensed, tax-exempt hospitals, has a mid-June deadline for data collection.

A key part of the data that’s being collected in 2018 and is new to this assessment cycle, according to project manager Pat Young, will come from comprehensive surveys completed by Central Virginia residents. As of this week, she said they’ve received about 2,000 online surveys and about 300 paper surveys-which also are available in Spanish-from the Bedford-, Farmville and Lynchburg-area assessment regions combined.

But as Young told community leaders gathered Monday, “we’re not getting a lot of responses from the folks that we want to hear from the most.”

The assessment teams have zeroed in on people who are medically underserved and members of low income and minority populations. The survey doesn’t only ask respondents questions about their health and what doctor they visit, it also inquires after things like the safety of their neighborhood, how well they can afford health care and the most important issues in the community from their perspective. Leaders meeting Monday discussed their foremost concerns for residents and triaged how best to go about meeting their needs — yet another form of data being culled for the assessment.

The deadline for survey collection is June 15.

By the end of Monday’s meeting, those present had reiterated a few key, underlying barriers to keeping Central Virginians healthy: generational poverty, unfamiliarity with available health services and lack of personal support structures among them.

Young said Wednesday’s meeting with community leaders in Bedford brought many of the same issues to the forefront as Monday’s meeting in Lynchburg.

Kris Shabestar, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Greater Lynchburg and one of those present Monday, said she’ll be speaking with volunteers to hand out surveys when they deliver food to clients, likely starting next week.

“I think in general, the people we’re servicing don’t have very good advocates for themselves … and having input from them would be really valuable,” she said Tuesday. “… So many of the issues we talked about [Monday] apply to the people that we’re serving.”

Bill Varner, president and CEO of United Way of Central Virginia, closed out Monday’s meeting by polling for suggestions and calling for centralized action on the issues at hand. United Way of Central Virginia is one of the members of the Partnership for Healthy Communities, which is supporting the health needs assessment.

Varner, who used to work at Centra as vice president of strategic planning, marketing and communications, said he sees the Community Health Needs Assessment as a lighthouse that can point leaders in the same direction to make “the most efficient, the most focused, the most concise effort possible” to tackle the area’s most difficult and longstanding needs.

“Centra has made a concerted effort on this [assessment] to focus on social determinants of health… all the things that we focus on at United Way,” he said Wednesday.

Where the rubber meets the road, he said at the Monday stakeholder meeting, will be in the implementation plan that grows out of the survey.

Once data-collection ends in June, teams will be laying out all that information and working with Centra’s Board of Directors, hospital community boards and Centra Foundation to prioritize needs and establish an action plan based on those needs by next June.

Reach Rachel Mahoney at (434) 385-5554.

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