With millions of residents across the U.S. at risk of losing access to health care, a new study produced in Fresno shows people have very clear ideas of what they need to be healthy.

The “Community Benefit Needs Assessment in South Fresno” report, conducted by the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State and commissioned by Fresno Building Healthy Communities, shows that local residents are looking to not-for-profit hospitals to shift their community benefit investment activities in order to promote a culture of prevention and responsive care to address barriers to living a healthy, safe and productive life.

“Local nonprofit hospitals have an obligation to improve the health of the community that goes beyond direct care,” said Sandra Celedon, executive director of Fresno Building Healthy Communities. “People know what they need to be healthy, but they face an overwhelming amount of barriers, like where they live, that affect their ability to lead healthy lives.”

In the report, residents expressed that a lack of access to health care in their neighborhoods, the availability of healthy and affordable food and the number of places to be physically active are tremendous obstacles.

In response to overcoming these barriers, residents identified strategies that not-for-profit hospitals can use to improve the overall health of neighborhoods. One such recommendation was the desire for culturally and linguistically responsive wellness promotion activities in places where groups already meet, such as community centers and schools.

“Recommendations for neighborhood investments included opportunities, healthy eating and nutrition classes and diabetes management workshops,” said Dr. Tania Pacheco-Werner, a research scientist at the institute and the lead author of the study.

In the United States, most hospitals operate as nonprofit organizations and are required by law to invest in the health of their communities. In 2015-2016, nine local nonprofit hospitals participated in the Fresno Community Health Needs Assessment to identify the top health barriers the community faces to inform their community benefit investment strategy. In reviewing the process and results of the assessment, community organizations that are part of Fresno Building Healthy Communities worked to understand the perspective of community residents from south Fresno, primarily low-income and communities of color.

The report is a byproduct of this work and included eight focus groups with more than 100 participants from south Fresno. In addition to programs, the participants cited cost-effective and simple changes that nonprofit hospitals can implement directly in neighborhoods to create healthier communities, like building more parks, creating more green space and adding walking and bike trails.

“Despite a painful national political debate on health care financing, our community still faces extraordinary health inequalities,” said Dr. John Capitman, executive director of the institute. “There is a broad consensus that continuing to meet our community’s health needs requires expanding efforts in prevention and self-care of chronic conditions. I believe that this is a great time for us all to focus anew on primary and secondary prevention. Hospitals, organizations, the universities and community members can work together to find new ways to keep children and families healthy, happy and away from places like the emergency room.”

A community forum regarding this report will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22, at Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School (1100 E. Church Ave.) in Fresno. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Augie Blancas at 559.473.6897 or ablancas@fresnonobhc.org.