Standard 12 states that organizations should conduct regular assessments of community health assets and needs and use the results to plan and implement services that respond to the cultural and linguistic diversity of populations in the service area. One situation in which a mismatch between the demographics of an organization and of the larger community can be expected is if members of a particular population are getting their needs met adequately elsewhere in the community. However, even when this is the case, a strong relationship with the underserved population and the people or places where their needs are being met is necessary. The only way to be sure that all bases are covered for each demographic group is to conduct regular community assessments to evaluate the needs of the community, compare this with the resources within the community, and then determine if there are any gaps or unmet needs that nobody is providing for a particular population.
It may sometimes be the case that the needs of a population are genuinely being fulfilled without high engagement with a particular agency’s services. However, it is much more likely that gaps will indeed be found when an agency conducts both an organizational assessment and a larger community asset and needs assessment. It may turn out that a population is being served by other resources in the community to a certain extent, but for more severe situations families tend to resort to the ER or other crisis facilities. In this case, having a strong relationship with the other support services in the area and providing early referral education to leaders may be an appropriate approach.
For example, if it is found that a portion of the local community relies on mental health assistance from religious leaders and tends to only access services once an individual is in crisis and in need of inpatient care, there is certainly room for a closer relationship with those religious leaders and groups. Though it should not be the aim of a professional or organization to discourage the guidance of religious leaders, some education may be needed so that referrals to more intensive treatment can be made before an individual reaches a crisis point.
In some cases, like the previous example, it may be that behavioral health needs are entirely unmet for a particular population. This presents a wonderful opportunity for the system of care model to be implemented. If the local system of care community is just getting started and identifies this need, it is extremely important to bring members of the underserved population to the table to make sure that procedures are created with the specific needs of each group in mind (and in the spirit of health equity, that special attention is given to this underserved group). If a system of care has existed in a local community for some time when it is discovered that a particular population is being underserved, it likely means that the current system of care is insufficient in its culturally and linguistically appropriate services and that some change is in order.
See the CDC’s guide to conducting a community needs assessment.
See Rotary International’s guide that explores different methods to conducting a community asset and needs assessment, including surveys, focus groups, community meetings, and community mapping.