Create a solid foundation, assess needs first

To establish a collaborative community education program among four Spokane, WA, hospitals, a director was hired to assess the needs of the community and how they were currently being met.

"Our approach has been one of process improvement. We are looking at who our customers are and what outcome we want to achieve," says Cindy Albrecht, RN, MSN, director of Community Health Education and Resources for Inland Northwest Health Services.

To help determine the needs of the community and how to meet those needs, Albrecht gathered statistics from each hospital. She looked at who was being admitted to the hospital and the reason for the admission. In Spokane, childbirth had been the No. 1 reason for hospital admissions for two years.

Emergency department admissions were reviewed as well. "Asthma was one of the top 15 admissions, so we needed to know what was causing the patients to come in, not just that they were being admitted. If the patients didn't know how to use their inhaler properly, we might not be doing a good job of education," explains Albrecht.

She also gathered census information from the local government to determine the age spectrum of the community.

Albrecht tallied the current community offerings, which included screenings and educational classes, and set out to see if the line-up was helpful to physicians in their practices. "Physicians are the ones who send us the patients. We wanted to find out if they were satisfied with the current programs, such as the childbirth classes," explains Albrecht.

Community members enrolled in the current programs were also interviewed to see how the classes could be improved. Some of the classes were too expensive, such as an eight-week weight management class that cost $175. "Our newspaper reported that the average worker in Spokane earns $18,000 a year. In light of that information, $175 is a lot of money," says Albrecht. Now they are considering payment alternatives such as developing a sliding scale based on income.

Albrecht plans to try several methods of community education to meet the varied needs of the Spokane population. "We're at an age where everyone wants information quickly, just like fast food." Often, they don't want to sit through a whole lecture, she explains.