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Institute for Public Service Reporting – Memphis


Health officials MAPP community violence, mental health access, other ‘unmet needs’ in Memphis

“Public safety and public health are inextricably linked,” said Dr. Michelle Taylor, the Shelby County Health Department’s director since 2021. “We know health outcomes are about more than just access to health care.” (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian file)
“Public safety and public health are inextricably linked,” said Dr. Michelle Taylor, the Shelby County Health Department’s director since 2021. “We know health outcomes are about more than just access to health care.” (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian file)

For the first time in a decade, the Shelby County Health Department is taking a comprehensive look at community health needs.

The process, expected to take about a year, begins with a Community Health Needs Assessment, the county’s first comprehensive “check-up” since 2013.

The new assessment, which includes an online survey and focus groups, will be used to develop Shelby County’s first new Community Health Improvement Plan since 2015.

That plan, expected by December, will address larger public health issues, including health inequities amplified by the pandemic, a shortage of mental health services and growing concerns about community violence.

“Public safety and public health are inextricably linked,” said Dr. Michelle Taylor, the department’s director since 2021. “We know health outcomes are about more than just access to health care.”

The assessment and plan are critical to the health department’s new effort to gain national accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board. Health departments in Davidson and Knox counties already have done so.

“All of this will help us do our jobs better,” Taylor said. “We still have a lot of health disparities, unmet health needs and under-resourced families in this community. The health department has to do more to address those needs.”

The online survey is open until April 1. It’s available at Participants are eligible to win a $50 Kroger gift card. The survey is available in English, Spanish and Arabic.

The department will host focus groups until July 1. Groups already have met in Hickory Hill, Whitehaven, Millington, Collierville and Orange Mound.

The department worked with local hospitals to conduct an informal needs assessment in 2019 that was limited to about 2,500 residents. The resulting plan included a wide range of priorities, reflecting each organization’s “different missions.” The pandemic pushed the plan to the back burner.

The health department’s first full-scale needs assessment was conducted in 2012-2013. It involved 1,536 residents through online and in-person surveys.

That assessment used an interactive process called Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships, or MAPP. It involved city and county governments, all local hospitals and major health centers, local public school systems, both major universities and more than a dozen nonprofits, as well as community residents.

As a result, “health disparities and social determinants of health,” “mental health” and “violence as a public health issue” were included for the first time as public health priorities for Shelby County’s Community Health Improvement Plan.

Dr. Debra Bartelli
Dr. Debra Bartelli

That plan played a critical role in helping the community pay more attention to the connections between childhood trauma, mental health and community violence, said Dr. Debra Bartelli of the University of Memphis School of Public Health. “Public health focuses on root causes, and that’s what we need to address,” Bartelli said.

Bartelli’s students helped the health department develop and analyze the online survey. As of Jan. 26, about 500 residents in 36 Shelby County ZIP codes had completed surveys. About 75% are female, 65% have lived in Shelby County for 20 years or more, 63% are over age 35 and 56% are African American.

Nonprofit hospitals and health centers are required to conduct their own community health needs assessments every three years, per the IRS. Those were completed in 2022. The hospitals’ findings will be incorporated into the health department’s assessment.

”Violence impacts the sense of well-being for entire communities, not just the direct victims of crime,” stated Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare’s plan. “Despite these challenges, Shelby and DeSoto Counties both have fewer mental health providers per capita than the nation and their respective states.”

Taylor said the health department is using the MAPP process again this time to develop a countywide assessment and plan. She expects the new plan to address “the disjointed and siloed coordination of care delivery (that) impacts our social, behavioral and environmental determinants of health” in Shelby County.

”Covid created more awareness of the importance of public health,” she said. “We want this process to open an even larger conversation about how public health can improve the fabric of our society.”

Written By

David Waters is Distinguished Journalist in Residence and assistant director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis.

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