Video Transcript: Partnering with the Community

Marilu Bintz, MD, MBA, FACS; Vice President of Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin

I think the first step for any organization, large or small, is to engage in a community needs assessment. That means that the organization has to reach out to the community to understand what the needs are. Once an organization gets interested, too often you immediately want to do everything for everybody, and you can’t. It doesn’t work that way. The community needs assessment really helps you focus your attention, and then your resources, into those areas where you can really improve community health.

In most instances, your staff is the community. Seek out those staff members who are doing great work in the community and embed them in your organization’s efforts, because they understand how to get it done. Find those nurses who are putting ten hours a week in at the food pantry. They’ll help you understand the needs of that particular local community, but embed them in the effort. Let them lead it or at least give them directional power to say, “This is what we need to do.” That would be my first point of advice to any staff member who wants to get their organization moving in this direction.

I think the next step after that is sort of a bi-directional partnership. Bring people in to your organization from the community. An example is at Gundersen we have a healing arts program, and as part of that program we bring artists and musicians into our facility to help us create that healing environment, and then the organization needs to go out into the community, but this is a matter of perspective.

The organization must understand that it doesn’t just send things out in the community as a deliverer of services. It’s a matter of understanding how to partner with the community as you go out because the one thing you never want to do is assume that you as the organization know all of the hows, the whats, the whys. When you start to send people out into the community, you have to do it in an understanding fashion, in a fashion that shows you’re curious. The organization must be more curious than directive. That, in my opinion, that’s the secret sauce: the curiosity of the organization about what’s going on in the community.