When 2016 McKesson Quest for Quality Prize recipient Memorial Medical Center teamed up with St. John’s Hospital and the Sangamon County Department of Public Health to conduct a comprehensive community health needs assessment two years ago, both hospitals saw an opportunity to make a difference in their Springfield, Ill., neighborhood. 

Memorial is located at one end and St. John’s Hospital is less than a mile away at the other end of Enos Park – a 36-square-block neighborhood that is home to about 2,160 people. 

The community health needs assessment showed there were numerous unmet chronic needs in Enos Park. The neighborhood was struggling with a poverty rate of more than 50%, drug abuse and a large transient population. Even though the neighborhood has a nearby federally qualified health center to deliver primary care, many residents use hospital emergency departments (ED) or go without health care.

The assessment led to the hospitals partnering on a three-year, $500,000 initiative called the Enos Park Access to Care Collaborative.

Launched last October, the initiative is designed to improve access to health care for long-term residents and the homeless. It also aims to address overuse of both hospitals’ EDs, which have high rates of visits for routine and chronic health issues that should be handled in primary care settings.

The Quest for Quality Prize committee noted Memorial’s collaboration on the community health needs assessment – and subsequent initiative – in informing the hospital in May that it would receive the prize.

Todd Roberts, the medical center’s quality and safety officer, describes the outreach as a health equity initiative. “As a field and society we have to continue to move forward in providing more equitable care,” he said. “There is a lot of work that still needs to be done.” 

To get a better understanding of the community’s needs, the hospitals engaged in extensive planning and sought input from focus groups of elderly and young people, working professionals and women from a homeless shelter. They learned that education and building trust would be key to making an impact.

The collaborative hired Tracey Smith as project director and three part-time community health workers. Smith holds an administrative position with the neighborhood's federally qualified health center, part of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Center for Family Medicine.

Her goal is community empowerment, a self-sustaining neighborhood support system that helps residents access care in the right setting, improves their health and reduces overall health care costs. When the project ends in the fall of 2018, Smith hopes to have put in place a “network that keeps people connected to the health system and a community that can support itself.”

Community health workers help their 91 clients tap into community resources to address their needs. They help clients find a medical home for themselves and their children and even accompany clients to doctors' appointments. They connect them with housing or utility assistance programs, social services and programs that provide clothing or household furnishings. Sometimes they help them find jobs.

Community health worker Shelly Weatherholt described the outreach to a reporter while helping a resident get his cell phone repaired.  

“We will listen to the patients' stories. We know who they are and what they need,” Weatherholt says.

The most rewarding part of her job is “seeing the transformation in people,” she says. “People who were homeless, but now we have helped them get a place to live. Or people who have had no access to care, but now we can set them up with a doctor or a specialist. Some of these patients haven’t seen a doctor for years and now they have the care they need.”