Palm Beach County's Community Health NETwork: Convening Safety-Net Providers to Build a Comprehensive System of Care

Article excerpt

Faced with the paradox of budget cuts and increased demand, local-level collaboration among public- and private-sector human service agencies has the potential to extend, and perhaps increase, resources while providing families with a broader range of services. Requirements of the new federal health care reform law may help facilitate this process.

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An example is the Palm Beach County Community Health NETwork. In 2007, the Florida Public Health Institute (FPHI) embarked on a mission to convene providers of health care services to the uninsured and underinonsured residents of Palm Beach County. With local grant funding, its goal was to promote cooperation among safety-net providers and identify gaps in access to care and opportunities for coordination and resource sharing. Since then, participation in the Community Health NETwork has expanded to include additional human service agencies, the local medical society, hospitals and other important community providers.

With the providers' input, the Community Health NETwork began mapping the location of each health clinic and medical practice serving the uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid population. As participation in the NETwork has grown beyond agencies traditionally associated with health services, mapping capabilities have expanded to include other vital services contributing to the community's overall health. The NETwork currently is cooperating with the community to build an On-line portal containing an interactive version of the map with links to community resources and information.

The NETwork map serves multiple audiences with the potential to meet a range of additional community needs. Caseworkers and those seeking services may utilize it to identify and locate appropriate agencies, clinics or practitioners. Visually presenting gaps in the county's safety net has implications for policymaking and resource allocation. Layering the map with other public-services such as bus routes and other public transportation, parks and recreational facilities, and water and sewer services may help county and municipal planners ensure that these systems are integrated for the highest level of public benefit.

The Community Health NETwork also has served as the basis for bringing new resources into the county. Not only is the map an important tool for agencies seeking grants or other funding, the relationships developed and the increased dialogue and cooperation among public and private agencies through the NETwork has helped both foster and support initiatives that promise far-reaching impacts for access of services.

For example, the Florida Public Health Institute was contracted by a local hospital to help explain the dramatic increase in the number of uninsured patients accessing its emergency room for non-emergent conditions. …