Discover health needs by looking in unlikely places

Programs generated from unusual data sources

Riverside Health System in Newport News, VA, is involved in several projects to promote a healthy community. Each project is selected to target community needs not currently being addressed. "We make our decisions based on our mission statement, which is to improve the health status of citizens within the communities we serve," says Caroline Martin, RN, MHA, executive vice president of the health system.

Community needs are discovered in a variety of innovative ways. They include:

• Referral service data.

At the 24-hour health communication center run by Riverside, health issues aren’t the only topic of discussion. The line doubles as a center for general aid referrals as well. Callers ask about resources for food, rent subsidies, or help when their electricity is about to be turned off.

"Because we are the referral service for the community, we know what referring agencies are out there and where individuals fall between the cracks," says Martin. This helps the health system know which agencies to partner with to help individuals obtain basic living necessities, thus improving community health and preventing illness.

• Cancer tumor registry.

Riverside Health System compiles data from its cancer tumor registry that can signal a need within the community. Previously, data showed an abnormal amount of early breast cancer detection among minority women in the hospital’s service area. Therefore, the health system applied for a grant to create a program for the target patient group that would increase awareness and provide early mammogram screenings.

"When we identified that need from our cancer tumor registry, we went to look for funding that might help us meet that need," says Martin. (For more information on obtaining grants to fund patient education programs, see cover story.)

• Survey process.

"Parish nursing" programs use nurses to help manage or prevent chronic diseases by delivering holistic care to members of churches, synagogues, and mosques. While these programs have provided much-needed health care services to people throughout the United States, Riverside Health System wanted to be sure the program was right for its region. The health system conducted a survey of all the houses of worship within the community to see if spiritual leaders saw a need within their congregations. (For information on how to start a parish nursing program, see Patient Education Management, April 1997, pp. 44-46.)

Once interest was shown, the health system hosted a seminar on parish nursing to explain the program further. It also sent one of its nurses to a parish nurse education program so she could provide education to others. The health system also conducts a parish nurse support group so these nurses have a place to share ideas and support each other.

Riverside also used a survey to verify health concerns identified in a formal community needs assessment conducted in partnership with the local chapter of the United Way. The partnership commissioned a random telephone survey to ask citizens what community health concerns they saw and whether they personally had these concerns as well.

"We were able to take the data collected from the community surveys and cross-check them with the actual statistics," says Martin. This helped the health care system assess the information and determine actual need rather than perceived need, she explains.


For more information on discovering the health needs of your community, contact:

Caroline Martin, RN, MHA, Executive Vice President, Riverside Health System, 606 Denbigh Blvd., Suite 601, Newport News, VA 23608. Telephone: (757) 875-7500. Fax: (757) 872-8910. E-mail: