• Article
  • February 20, 2018

Community Health Spotlight: Engaging Local Leaders in Community Health Strategy

One challenge children’s hospitals often face is how to develop relationships with community leaders that meet the needs of all parties. While children’s hospitals are committed to serving the community as part of their mission, there are limits to the scope and breadth or work they can do. Engaging community leaders in planning for community health can help hospitals meet their goals while working with those who have the ability to guide the hospital’s efforts towards greatest needs, extending both impact and goodwill. 

Akron Children’s Hospital’s strategy for better incorporating community leadership was through developing a CHNA Steering Committee that comprises external stakeholders.  The 25-member committee was created to ensure there is community input on the highest level and to connect the hospital’s board to their community health efforts. The committee includes public health commissioners from the three counties in the hospital’s primary service area, elected officials, business and industry leaders, health and education providers, and representatives from social services organizations.

Heather Wuensch, director of Community Benefits, Advocacy and Outreach at Akron Children’s said their team was very thoughtful in identifying members for the committee, recruiting those who could serve as champions for specific issues or areas and also leverage relationships in the community where the hospital is building strategies and plans. 

Her colleague Lauren Trohman, community benefit and community health needs assessment coordinator, agrees it is important to recruit committee members based on their potential to move the needle on the selected issues, not just to fill a slot. 

How the committee functions

Setting up a group like this requires that the experience be meaningful for both the conveners and the participants. The priorities and topics the group will discuss are set by an internal committee of Akron Children’s staff before going to the CHNA Steering Committee.

The CHNA Steering Committee: 

  • Meets quarterly
  • Is chaired by a member of the hospital’s Board of Trustees
  • Has an informal structure, though members are asked to take part through an entire three-year CHNA cycle
  • Provides feedback and guidance on the implementation plans and strategies developed by Akron Children’s staff
  • Connects Akron Children’s staff with community partners and agencies to better implement community health strategies

“It’s important to find people who have a huge interest in community health,” said Heather. “The feedback from the steering committee has helped our team shape approaches and really provides invaluable advice.”

For more information on the benefits of an external steering committee and how to start one, reach out to Heather Wuensch or Lauren Trohman at Akron Children’s. 

This article is part of a new series, spotlighting aspects of member hospital’s work in community health. If you have a topic you’d like to submit for consideration, contact Stacy Biddinger