Union Memorial Hospital starts federally mandated community health assessments

How difficult is it to find a doctor or dentist in north Baltimore?

Does the area offer enough recreational opportunities and public transportation to medical appointments?

Are there bilingual doctors available locally? Do you have a hard time finding doctors who take Medicare? Are health-screening programs being promoted well enough in your community?

Union Memorial Hospital is surveying area residents on those and other questions, as part of a new federal mandate for community health assessments.

The hospital, which is owned by MedStar Health, has done its own assessments voluntarily in the past. But, beginning this year, hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid must conduct a standard health assessment every three years, according to Union Memorial and MedStar officials.

The hospitals must complete the assessments, with specific guidelines, by the end of fiscal 2012, June 30. A report will then be issued, officials said.

MedStar, which has nine hospitals in Maryland and Washington, is the only health care provider that is doing the mandatory assessments this year; the rest are waiting until next year, said Jill Johnson, Union Memorial's director of strategic planning.

"We wanted to get out of the gate and get it done," she said.

The survey is being emailed to residents and can be taken online at http://research.zarca.com/k/SsTRTVsURQsPsPsP. People can call 410-772-6694 to take it on the phone.

Union Memorial and MedStar Health kicked off the assessment process with a Community Conversation and dinner in the hospital conference center Nov. 22.

"Your participation will help us identify priorities for Union Memorial," said MedStar Health's Christopher King, assistant vice president for community health.

About 10 residents and community leaders attended, including Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Hampden merchant Alice Ann Finnerty, who owns The Turnover Shop. Both serve on the Union Memorial Community Health Assessment Task Force

Others on hand included Karen DeCamp, director of neighborhood programs for the Greater Homewood Community Corp., and president of the York Road Partnership; Karenthia Barber, president of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Community Association; Regina Boyce, of Waverly, community outreach liaison for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, and representatives from the Y of Central Maryland.

Attendees were asked to answer 28 questions and to provide demographic information. Other questions probed perceptions about the local availability of programs that focus on mental health, heart disease, cancer screening, and healthy lifestyle education.

Even questions about recreational opportunities are important, so hospital officials can assess the need for programs dealing with health care issues like obesity, Johnson said.

"We're trying to broaden our lens to look at the full spectrum," Johnson said. She said Union Memorial's concerns include healthy lifestyles.

In roundtable discussions, attendees singled out the need for improved transportation to doctors' visits, especially for seniors and people who work.

"I would say for some working adults, it's a challenge," Barber said.

Attendees also suggested more partnerships between the hospital and community groups and schools, and more outreach by the hospital at festivals and health fairs.

There was even a suggestion that Union Memorial use a mobile clinic for people who are unable to get to the hospital.

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