BJC HealthCare Unveils Community Health Plan for St. Louis

BJC HealthCare, the hospital system that operates Barnes-Jewish Hospital and more than a dozen others in the St. Louis area, unveiled a strategic plan on Wednesday aimed at reducing health disparities among local residents. richer and poorer in the city, especially the gap in health outcomes for blacks and whites.

BJC staff will work with organizations in the parts of St. Louis and northern St. Louis County most affected by health inequities to help people buy homes and start businesses. They will also work to provide access to healthy food, reduce infant and maternal mortality, and make schools healthier.

“I don’t want this announcement to be congratulations,” said Dr. Jason Purnell, BJC’s vice president of community improvement. “We are here and we want to work with the community to achieve better results in real life.”

As one of the region’s largest healthcare providers, BJC has a responsibility to help its most vulnerable residents, he said.

Purnell is one of the authors of “For the Sake of All,” a 2014 report that outlined the severe health inequities between white and black residents in the area. The report found an 18-year difference in life expectancy between residents of northern St. Louis and those in the city’s wealthy western suburbs.

The report describes how social, geographic and economic circumstances can directly affect people’s health or illness. The strategic plan is one way to address those disparities, Purnell said.

“We know that these social and economic factors are closely linked to health outcomes,” he said. “You have to address these upstream cause health issues.”

BJC will work with school districts, food banks and financial institutions to create plans to improve the health of residents and determine how to measure their success.

New health system plans include increasing the number of doulas in clinical settings to improve black maternal health, increasing the availability of psychiatrists, counselors and social workers in schools, and increasing community participation in the production and distribution of safe food.

BJC will develop and support programs with local organizations and can also provide funding. Most of the beneficiaries will be patients at BJC Christian Hospital in northern St. Louis County, a spokeswoman said.

Some partnerships come with purse strings. For example, the health system gives local banks money to distribute in the form of business and housing loans.

Improving the financial health of communities makes sense, said Alex Fennoy, vice president of business services for the St. Louis Community Credit Union, which is part of the partnership. Many people forgo medical services to pay rent or other expenses instead.

“It’s outside the traditional box for a large healthcare organization,” he said. “But if you peel the onion a bit, it becomes much lighter.”

Five businesses, including a pest removal business and a funeral home, have already received a combined loan of $2.8 million under the program with BJC.

“One of the biggest drivers of health outcomes is the lack of financial resources,” he said. “If you don’t get funding, if you don’t have paying jobs, if you don’t have transportation, all of those things are much more difficult. You’re fighting the cycle of survival.”

BJC is also committed to hiring and promoting more black people who live in St. Louis and northern St. Louis County in its own hospitals.

But the arrangements aren’t just financial, Purnell said.

“We could have done it behind closed doors with just BJC staff, but we think we have to be intentional to make it an inclusive process and understand that we can’t improve community health without the community,” he said. he declares.

BJC officials developed the plans with the help of focus groups made up of community leaders and health workers who work in the targeted neighborhoods.

Support from a large organization like BJC can boost awareness for smaller organizations, said Jocelyn Fundoukos, director of communications for Operation Food Search, an Overland-based nonprofit that distributes free food and personal care items to local families and provides nutrition education.

The health system and food service organization worked together to provide healthy meals for people with diabetes at Christian Hospital.

“There is a real opportunity to work with a great organization like BJC,” Fundoukos said. “I think this is a great opportunity to add some kind of weight to this concept of food as medicine.”

BJC will also work with My Blooming Health Lab and the North Sarah Food Hub. The plan also calls on hospital officials to lobby state and federal lawmakers to reform SNAP qualifying requirements and use Medicaid funding to pay for doulas and school-based health services.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

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