URMC Recognized for Community Service Efforts

Jun. 21, 2009

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has received the Leadership Award for Community Benefit Excellence from VHA, Inc., a national health care alliance. The award is in recognition of the Medical Center’s work with community partners to address a number of public health challenges, including lead poisoning.

“This award is a great honor and a testament to the hard work, commitment, and innovation of our faculty, staff, and community partners who have made Rochester a true national leader in the field of community health,” said Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., the director of the Center for Community Health.

VHA is a Texas-based organization that serves more than 1,400 not-for-profit hospitals and 24,000 non-acute care organizations, and focuses on helping its members improve their clinical and economic performance. URMC is one of five health systems nationwide to be recognized for its efforts to serve community health needs.

“Providing for the unique health needs of their communities is the hallmark of not-for-profit hospitals,” said Michael Regier, senior vice president of VHA.  “The VHA Leadership Award for Community Benefit recognizes organizations for their focus and commitment to community benefit and the effective strategies they use to tell their community benefit story.”

URMC has a long and distinguished history in serving the Rochester community. The medical center traces its commitment to community health back to the medical school’s founding gift which George Eastman bequeathed to the school with the instructions that the school help make Rochester, “one of healthiest communities in the world.”  

That charge has given rise to many programs that seek to address public health challenges, including obesity, smoking cessation, home visits for at-risk mothers, and efforts to eliminate disparities in immunization rates. These efforts take many forms and range from grassroots efforts to improve access to healthy foods to high tech solutions such as providing pediatric and dental telemedicine services to schools and day care centers.   

In 2004, the URMC formally designated community health as one of the Medical Center’s four core missions, along with education, research, and patient care. Three years ago, URMC established the Center for Community Health to increase community-based research and programs and to strengthen community partnerships. Last year, the Center moved to a new city home in closer proximity to both the population it serves and other important social service organizations.

At the heart of the Medical Center’s efforts have been ongoing collaboration between URMC, individual organizations, the Monroe County Department of Public Health and the New York State Department of Health.  These partnerships have enabled the University and the community to develop a greater understanding of health challenges, establish priorities, design effective programs, and measure outcomes.

“Experience has taught us that effective and sustainable community benefit programs are based on strong partnerships with grassroots and faith-based organizations, social services providers, government, community-based clinics, business partners, foundations, and private philanthropists,” said Bennett. “Deep-rooted relationships in the community serve as the foundation for our work leading to new endeavors, many reaching previously underserved populations.”

A prominent example of academic/community collaboration has been the effort to address lead poisoning in Rochester.  The Medical Center, along with several other community organizations, helped form the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning back in 2000 in response to studies that showed that the rate of elevated blood lead levels among Monroe County was more than three times higher than the statewide average

The Medical Center, which has been studying the health implications of lead exposure for decades, provided the scientific and analytical tools to help define the scope of the problem and its impact on children. URMC faculty were also part of a successful grassroots effort to advocate for a historic lead abatement ordinance passed by the City of Rochester. 

After the ordinance went into effect, Medical Center faculty worked with community partners to establish a “model home” called the Healthy Home to provide hands-on demonstrations of how to reduce home environmental hazards, particularly in older low-income housing.   The Healthy Home has become of hub of public information on lead and other environmental hazards and provides residents, landlords, health care providers, youth, and others with information on how to reduce these hazards.  The Healthy Home focuses on common environmental home health hazards, such as asthma triggers, poor indoor air quality, mold, toxic chemicals, pests, and unintended injuries to children, but also provides links to community resources on nutrition, fire safety and many other housing and health topics.

The Healthy Home opened in 2006 with a small grant from the Environmental Health Sciences Center.  Two years ago, the Medical Center transferred administration of the home over to the SouthWest Area Neighborhood Association (SWAN) which has since received funding from federal, state and local sources that have enabled it to expand the scope of its programs.  In the three years since it opened, over 3,000 visitors have toured the Healthy Home and surveys have shown that over 80% of these visitors have taken some follow-up action to improve the environmental health of their home.

“SWAN is very proud of the longstanding relationship with Katrina Korfmacher of the University of Rochester’s Environmental Health Sciences Center and her support in solidifying our holistic approach to community health,” said Eleanor Coleman, director of Youth and Family Services at SWAN.  “Working as partners, we have been able to capitalize on our strengths and have grown stronger and more efficient in the process.”