Conducting Community Needs Assessments to Drive the Health System

Health care can often be a reactive discipline. For example, a patient comes to their physician with a problem, and the physician prescribes treatment for that specific problem. However, Southcentral Foundation’s Nuka System of Care operates proactively. On individual, family, and community levels, SCF works to improve overall wellness. One tool SCF employs to achieve this goal is the community needs assessment.

Upon taking responsibility for the health care system back in the 1990s, one of the first things SCF did was to survey the Alaska Native and American Indian community to determine what their top five health care needs were. The data from this survey helped SCF leadership set priorities for the health care system, emphasizing things like relationship-based care, behavioral health, and trauma-informed care.

Community needs assessments use both qualitative and quantitative data collected from individual and group feedback. SCF then analyzes the data and identifies common themes that emerge, synthesizing the information to understand health system strengths, gaps, and challenges. This analysis identifies priority areas, including pressing health concerns, as well as community areas of strength and resilience. The goal is to create a comprehensive picture of the current health status and priorities of the community.

Community needs assessments are not only important during the foundation of health care systems or times of major change. In 2018, SCF repeated the community needs assessment to gain a better idea of the current state of health in the Native community. Results from the 2018 assessment indicated that the community’s health priorities had shifted, and SCF made changes and reallocated resources in response. In 2018, the feedback was also much more positive than it was for the first survey, indicating that SCF had successfully addressed many of the challenges that impacted quality of care in the 1990s.

SCF continues to use customer feedback as the primary guiding force in making decisions and setting priorities for the health care system. SCF’s Learning Institute has also assisted other organization’s in conducting community needs assessments, analyzing the data, and implementing organizational changes. For more information on community needs assessments, or other tools SCF uses to collect customer feedback, feel free to contact the SCF Learning Institute.