Providence charts a course for community health
Since our founding in 1850, Providence has made it our mission to care for the most vulnerable in our communities. “We’re not just interested in the work inside the walls of the hospitals,” says Shawn Kiley, chief mission integration officer and longtime chaplain at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center. “It’s about our commitment to building health for a better community. We minister to the whole person—mind, body, spirit.”
Here in the San Fernando Valley, that mission comes to life through a joint effort between Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana, Providence Saint Joseph and Providence Holy Cross medical centers. Every three years, our Community Health Investment team conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment, listening to people throughout the community. The results identify Providence’s highest priorities in serving our most vulnerable populations for the next three years.
The triannual survey was especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Something like that comes along and can turn a community upside down,” says Kiley. “You need to keep going into the community at a regular cadence to keep your finger on the pulse of things.”
Case in point: In 2019, then San Fernando Valley community identified food insecurity as one of its top priorities, a need that only grew more acute when COVID-19 struck. As the 2022 report states, “Communities banded together to provide food to seniors who were immunocompromised or homebound and unable to go grocery shopping.” Because of Providence’s successful efforts, food insecurity actually went down on the 2022 list of unaddressed needs. (Read about some of those community heroes in the sidebar.) But the pandemic exacerbated other problems. The 2022 report identified three top priorities for the period ahead: access to quality health care; homelessness and housing instability; and mental health, including substance misuse. Our youth and our elderly suffered profound loneliness and isolation during the pandemic, and those effects linger today.
Providence meets those needs through a variety of means, from grants to patient programs at the hospitals themselves. Our Mother Joseph Fund awards $400,000 in grants each December, enabling our partner organizations to open food pantries, provide behavioral health support and operate shower programs and mobile vans to aid those experiencing homelessness. In each of our San Fernando Valley hospitals, navigators for the homeless help patients find transitional shelter, while mental health navigators help secure behavioral health care. In our emergency departments, a program pairs patients with primary care doctors for ongoing follow-up care.
True to our mission, Providence also focuses squarely on the bigger picture: health equity. “There are segments of our population who aren’t getting the kind of care that others may take for granted,” Kiley states. “It’s important to call that out and to emphasize that everybody should have equal footing. It’s our core value of justice.”
It’s also about “helping people live their best life, in terms of housing, nutrition and access to care,” he says. “We need to pause with intention to ask, ‘Who is it that’s not being served here?’ If we don’t do that, then we are diminished by that gap.”