Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2020 - 21

plans of action which prioritize the major health care needs and
recommend steps to address these. PSHSJ conducted their study
as a regional effort with Penn State Health, including data specific
to the Berks County market for PSHSJ. RH conducted their study
as a regional effort within Tower Health, independently focused on
the immediate market of each individual hospital (for RH: the Berks
County area). As expected, these results show major similarities in
outcomes and recommendations for addressing common health needs
of our community.
CHNA studies are mandated of all tax-exempt hospitals by the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 and must be
completed every three years. This is the third study in nine years with
recommendations produced by our two local hospitals. Although a
federal requirement, according to Desha Dickson, Associate VP for
Community Wellness at Reading Hospital, and Mary Hahn, VP of
Ambulatory Services and Business Development at Penn State Health
St. Joseph, who oversee the development and implementation of these
plans at their respective institutions, both the process of collecting
data and the outcomes generated, provide invaluable guidance in their
efforts to address health disparities and improve lives.
Social Determinants of Health are central to both reports and
efforts to address these are the focus of key recommendations. In
particular, the RH/TH study emphasizes such areas as food and
housing insecurity as well as transportation barriers. Similarly,
PSHSJ's report also emphasizes lifestyle behaviors including dietary
factors and limited physical activity which contribute to obesity
and its associated multitude of health problems. Overall outcomes
indicate that the health of Berks County residents is in general worse
than our surrounding neighbors (PSH data charts, Reference 1) and
access to a personal care provider (RH, Reference 2) although better
than the US average is below that of PA and appears to have worsened
slightly during the past 3 years. Particular areas of deficiency are
access to mental health and dental care services.

Areas of Priority Focus for Health Systems:
Penn State Health St. Joseph
Figure 2

Reading Hospital/Tower Health
1. Access to Health Care
Increase access to health care services by community members
particularly those considered vulnerable and/or living in
underserved areas.
2. Social Determinants of Health
Identify and address social determinants of health with emphasis
on housing, transportation and food insecurity.
3. Disease Prevention and Management
Implement chronic disease and management programs including
health screenings in the primary service area specifically targeting
vulnerable populations.
4. Access to Behavioral Health Service
Improve access to screening, assessment, treatment and support
for behavioral health. Decrease stigma related to behavioral
health.
Is there any reason for optimism as we review the data and
recognize the challenges that confront us? According to Desha
Dickson, her sense of optimism comes from the community
awareness and engagement that has been generated over the last
several years as multiple community partners have worked closely
to expand services, including Case Management and specific
interventions by RH e.g. legal services support to address SDOH
needs. Mary Hahn notes the growth of Care Navigation and, in
particular, the success of PSHSJ's Community Health Worker training
program as a means of addressing grass roots community needs.
Are there opportunities for both health systems to work together to
address these health issues? Mary and Desha clearly recognize that the
similarity of goals does offer possibilities for cooperation to improve
the health of the Berks community.

Conclusions
As we confront the factors that are reversing the US mortality
curve, it is imperative that we understand the role of SDOH and
commit our resources to such areas as access to care, behavioral
health, disease prevention and management, and healthy lifestyles
to address the many disparities that plague our health care system.
Penn State St. Joseph and the Reading Hospital/Tower Health are to
be applauded for their focus on just such factors in their efforts to
improve the health of our community. However, it is not enough
to applaud, rather it is a challenge that the Berks County Medical
Society and indeed all health care providers in our region must accept
as a fundamental task before us-to address the social, psychological
and economic forces that play such an important role in the health
status of our patients. Indeed if we want to live in a healthy
community, to raise our families in a healthy environment and to
reverse the mortality curve for the benefit of future generations, the
time is now to support and join with our local health care institutions
to make Berks County a truly healthier place for all.
References
For additional CHNA information and to further review Implementation Plans go to:
1) PS/SJH: https://thefutureofhealthcare.org/community-health-needs-assessment
2) RH/TH: https://reading.towerhealth.org/community/community-health-needs-assessment

WINTER 2020

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https://www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/community-health-needs-assessment https://reading.towerhealth.org/community/community-health-needs-assessment

Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Winter 2020

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