Public health needs assessment shows little progress since 2019

  • Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ



Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2023 4:07:41 PM
Modified: 1/11/2023 4:06:45 PM

GREENFIELD — Filling public health needs in Franklin County and North Quabbin communities saw little progress over the past three years, as evidenced by the recent Community Health Needs Assessment showcasing much of the same needs that were prioritized in 2019.

Some of those prioritized needs, which are categorized in three ways — social and economic factors that influence health; barriers to health care access; and health behaviors and outcomes — include housing, provider scarcity and youth mental health.

Housing needs and provider scarcity, in particular, were identified as needs unique to the Baystate Franklin Medical Center area, while youth mental health, a problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, was identified as a regional focus area.

“There was not a lot of forward, positive forward movement to report, in terms of our health status as a region,” said Franklin Regional Council of Governments Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker. “There’s so much of what we could have been addressing if the whole world wasn’t grappling with the impact of the pandemic, both economical, educational and on mental health.”

In fact, housing access and housing cost burden has gotten worse, Walker noted. The region also faces a crisis in home health aide access.

Walker did, however, acknowledge progress such as increased access to broadband, COVID-19 protections and transportation through the Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA). The launch of the family medicine residency program at Baystate Franklin also demonstrated a step in addressing the ongoing shortage of primary care doctors in the region.

Still, she said, “none of the great work being done has yet to do enough to actually make an improvement in those health indicators that are a priority in our region.”

The Community Health Needs Assessment, which Baystate Health is required to conduct every three years, happens in collaboration with Baystate Franklin, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer. As part of the process, Baystate engaged more than 500 individuals representing communities served by Baystate’s four hospitals.

“We, as a group of hospitals and insurers, really have collaborated in terms of pooling our resources so we can get a really comprehensive view in our region, because all our service areas overlap,” said Brittney Rosario, community benefits specialist for Baystate Health. “We recognize that together we’re leveraging more strategically in order to get a glimpse of what our day-to-day community members are experiencing, and also what are assets in the community.”

Between November 2021 and March 2022, consultants hired by Baystate hosted and facilitated virtual focus groups, community forums and community chats, as well as key-informant interviews and a public health survey.

“Identifying the most prevalent health issues in a community and understanding the root causes of those conditions is vitally important to improving the health of all,” Baystate Health’s Director of Community Relations and Community Benefits Annamarie Golden said in a statement. “The CHNA is a very effective and critically important tool for accomplishing that. In addition, the CHNA calls attention to resources and aspects of the community that contribute to its connectedness and well-being. This includes things like social networks, community-based organizations and cultural factors.”

Rosario acknowledged that the pandemic limited community engagement — specifically a form of outreach called “community chats” — largely to virtual spaces. In past years, those would happen at area schools or nursing homes, for example.

“I don’t necessarily think that skews the data in any one way, but we strive to give really unique local perspectives whenever we can,” Rosario explained. “So there’s a little bit of a limitation on really personal narratives that can support some of the data we’ve included.”

Rosario said the next step for Baystate hospitals is to work in partnership with Community Benefits Advisory Councils to develop hospital-specific strategic implementation plans, which will describe how the hospitals plan to address the identified and prioritized needs. Once approved, the plans will be available on the Baystate website.

“We can’t do this alone as employees,” Rosario said. “Our community really helps guide the process from beginning to end and we cherish their input to do that.”

Walker said she’s hopeful for the progress that will be made before the next assessment, three years from now.

“I think this is a great county for collaboration, and there’s so much work being done and funding becoming available because of the pandemic,” she said. “I think we will see big improvements.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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