By Shellie Byrum


Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden and the city seven years ago embarked on the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative (MHCI), also known as Healthy BR, a 501(c)3 non-profit organized to communicate, coordinate and collaborate community-wide efforts to pursue better health outcomes for the city.

Working with more than 70 partner organizations and the parish’s five acute care hospitals, the AHA 2015 NOVA Award-winning Healthy BR initiative identifies and acts on population health priorities in the parish, aligning community benefit resources and community service organizations into effective population health interventions. The annual NOVA award honors hospital-led partnerships that improve community health.

“Our job is to empower others to do what they do well and to connect them with the continuum of services that people need to make sure that the people that live here are getting all the things that they're able to, and living a healthier lifestyle as a result,” says Andy Allen, community outreach coordinator for Healthy BR and the Office of the Mayor-President in Baton Rouge.

Healthy BR StoreBaton Rouge is the first city in the country to approach its community health needs assessment (CHNA) holistically – instead of five separate assessments by area hospitals. Baton Rouge leads a city-wide CHNA process with the hospitals, resulting in one unified assessment and one implementation plan for the city. The participating hospitals are Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Lane Regional Medical Center, Ochsner Health Systems, Baton Rouge Region, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and Woman’s Hospital.

Based off of the one joint CHNA, Baton Rouge identified the four most pressing health priorities in their community: obesity, HIV/AIDS, mental and behavioral health and overuse of emergency departments.

Obesity has been the cornerstone issue of Healthy BR since its inception, and for good reason. According to 2014 data from Gallup-Healthways on obesity in the United States, Baton Rouge’s 35.9% obesity rate is the highest among America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

As part of Healthy BR, partners address such key issues as access to fresh and healthy foods, education and affordability through programs like the Red Stick Mobile Farmers Market and the Healthy Corner Store Initiative that bring fresh and healthy foods to areas of town identified as low-income, low-access areas. They also conduct cooking classes to educate both school children and community members about a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Another major initiative addresses behavioral health issues. Denise Dugas, vice president of operations for Seaside Healthcare, a Louisiana-headquartered organization focused on behavioral health, says the work of the behavioral health committee interlocks with and supports all other Healthy BR initiatives. For instance, they are working with the HIV committee to address those with risky behaviors and working on behavioral health issues to help people better manage their chronic illness.

“It’s about not treating our patients in a silo,” says Dugas. “And with bundled payments coming and payments based on quality, physicians are starting to open their ears a little bit more than when we tried to do this five years ago.”

Allen says the Affordable Care Act has helped provide opportunities for collaboration in Baton Rouge around CHNAs and implementation plans. Similarly, laws at the state level in Louisiana have forced integration of physical and behavioral health services among Medicaid providers. Starting Dec. 1, Medicaid providers can no longer outsource behavioral health issues to a third-party provider. Instead, it has to be part of their offering as a managed care group. 

“Lots of things need to happen that would take a long time to happen organically,” says Allen.

Nicole Kleinpeter, Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s vice president of corporate communications and marketing, credits thejoint CHNA process in helping them to better quantify, measure and prioritize the biggest health care needs in the community. The hospital has used the same framework to prioritize and make decisions about their own efforts, from volunteer efforts to in-kind support, to ensure their work is in alignment with health needs in the community.

“Through that data-driven process we've all been able to effectively work together, and now we're focused on really moving the needle in terms of population health,” says Kleinpeter. “We are seeing a difference in the lives of our community members.”

For more on how the initiative addresses behavioral health issues, listen here. Interested in applying for a 2016 AHA NOVA Award? Learn more by clicking here.