Engaging with Local Hospitals on Community Health

Is your hospital on this List? If so, it is a non-profit hospital, and most Georgia hospitals fall into this category. Non-profit hospitals do not have to pay most federal, state and local taxes.  In return for their tax-exempt status, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has certain requirements for non-profit hospitals, including ensuring that part of their operating expenses are spent on community benefits. Community benefits are defined as anything that promotes the health of the community. These often include free screenings, charity care, education classes, support groups, and in-kind donations to local nonprofit organizations or health departments.

What is a Community Health Needs Assessment?

In order to ensure that non-profit hospitals are addressing the health needs of their communities, the Affordable Care Act requires that non-profit hospitals conduct Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) every 3 years.  Most hospitals completed their first required CHNA either in 2012 or 2013, and most are currently in the process of completing their second one.

Through the CHNA process, information is collected from community members and secondary data sources about the health status of the community.  Community health needs are then prioritized based on the findings of the needs assessment.  Hospitals must implement programs that target the prioritized community health needs.  Hospitals must also report annually to the IRS on the 990 form their progress in implementing programs to effectively address these prioritized health needs.  Hospitals must make their CHNAs publicly available on their websites.

Did your hospital have a good CHNA?

In 2014, Georgia Watch reviewed the first rounds of CHNAs and corresponding implementation strategies from 38 non-profit hospitals in Georgia in order to identify best practices and develop policy recommendations.   Georgia Watch also developed a checklist that community stakeholders can use to determine if their hospital developed a thorough CHNA and implementation strategy that adequately addresses the community’s most critical health needs:

  • Did the hospital comply with IRS requirements?
  • Did the hospital engage the community in a meaningful way in the CHNA process?
    • Did the hospital intentionally gather input from members of vulnerable populations?
    • Was the hospital transparent about who provided input?
    • Did the hospital involve community members in the prioritization and implementation phases as well?
  • Does the hospital have an ongoing feedback mechanism?
  • Are the prioritized health needs in line with the community’s perception of needs?

Empower yourself and your community by getting involved in your local hospital’s CHNA process!

There are several ways you can get involved in your hospital’s CHNA process:

  • Have a meeting with person in charge of hospital’s community benefit programs, or find out who is in charge of the CHNA process and request a meeting with that person.
  • Find out where the hospital is in the CHNA process.
    • Ask how they are planning to gather community input and feedback.
    • Volunteer to be an active participant in the assessment and planning processes.
    • Share your insights on the needs of your community.

Hospitals should be collaborating with community-based groups who already have a strong track record in working to address the community’s health needs.

 Additional Resources

To find out more about IRS regulations for non-profit hospitals and our report evaluating Georgia non-profit CHNAs, please review the following resources:

Written by: Beth Stephens, Health Access Program Director