Health Assessment of Chelsea Now Going On

Killing two birds with one stone doesn’t seem like a very healthy thing (especially for the birds), but in the current case for Mass General and the City of Chelsea, knocking off two things at once might be just what the doctor ordered.

City Manager Jay Ash officially announced this week that he intends to conduct the first-ever Chelsea Community Health Study over the next six months, and it comes at the same time that MGH is faced with a federal mandate to conduct a major, resident-driven community health assessment.

The two, Ash said, have agreed to collaborate.

“The planets are kind of aligning for us,” said Ash this week. “Last summer I talked with several community-based organizations about their observations of needs in the community. Based on those discussions, I had put together the idea of having a full plan on the health of the community. That is a priority of mine this year and I don’t think Chelsea has ever had one. In talking with MGH, they indicated they also had a need to do some kind of planning process and so we are collaborating.”

Ash and Leslie Aldrich, associate director for the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement, said that Chelsea will kick off its combined effort on Feb. 2nd with a full-day retreat at City Hall that will engage community-based organizations, residents, elected officials and others.

“This will be about us pulling together this full planning process to address issues on public health, individual health needs and people’s quality of life,” said Ash. “This will be the start of our dialog and I expect it to last about six months. There are an endless number of issues we could talk about. This will be to prioritize the issues that people think are most important to them.”

Aldrich said that the MGH study will not stop there.

“This will be Chelsea’s kickoff, but for us it can’t end there,” she said. “We really have to continue and reach deep into the community.”

Under a mandate by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that came about due to the new federal health care law, all non-profit hospitals have to conduct thorough Community Health Assessments (CHAs) in the communities where they are present. Those assessments have to be in strong collaboration with the community and must involve numerous meetings and community approval of the final results.

The purpose is to identify community health priorities, and then develop a plan to attack those priorities.

Under the IRS mandate, MGH must conduct the assessment and finish it within the same taxable year. With that in mind, MGH has embarked on its very ambitious process in Charlestown, Chelsea and Revere – a process that will  include the City Hall retreat, small group interviews, quality of life surveys, and deep community outreach.

So far, Charlestown is pulling the cart in the process and has had several well-attended community meetings. However, Chelsea and Revere are catching up in the process, and for good reason.

As part of the IRS mandate, the process must be finished by September and Aldrich said the MGH Trustees have asked to have Chelsea’s plan in hand for an approval vote at their August meeting.

Ash has taken the lead for the MGH process in appointing an Assessment Committee. That committee will lead the process for MGH and will also be instrumental in crafting Ash’s first-ever Chelsea community health plan.

For the MGH study, which will include workers fanning out into the neighborhoods and surveying populations that don’t typically come out to meetings and forums, late April is expected to be a major milestone in the process. Aldrich said all of the data collected will be presented to the Chelsea community and it will have a chance to set health issue priorities for MGH.

Finally, the MGH trustees must review the plan and approve it in August.

“The one real positive thing for us is having the relationships and trust already built in Charlestown, Revere and Chelsea with our existing coalitions,” said Aldrich. “That is very big and an advantage that takes about a year’s worth of work away.”

Ash agreed, “Working with MGH will certainly help our overall process get off the ground and get accurate information for setting priorities.”

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