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Community Benefit/Community Health Improvement

As part of the more than 150-year heritage of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, we hold to a tradition of serving those at the margins of society in creative in collaborative ways. Like many Catholic-sponsored health systems, SCL Health uses methods developed by the Catholic Health Association to track how we help the public through our hospitals and clinics. These programs and services include:

  • Community health services.
  • Uncompensated, charity care.
  • Subsidized health services.
  • Health professions education.
  • Donations.
  • Research.
  • Community-building activities and operations.

In 2013, SCL Health contributed more than $226 million in community benefits to those living in the communities we serve. These services broke down barriers and enhanced access to care for many people as our hospitals and clinics worked together to share resources to improve the overall health of the community, creating continuous change with long-lasting positive results. Our community health services touched more than 171,579 lives.

For the past 20 years, the Catholic Health Association (CHA) has been a leader in community benefit for faith-based organizations. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, CHA have been instrumental in helping our health system to remain in line with new standards and requirements. Our mission is clear: align our work with our Mission to "to care for those who are poor and vulnerable" and intertwine community benefit within SCL Health strategic priorities. This will transform community benefit for the future of our organization and healthcare.

What is Community Benefit?

Community benefits are programs, services, and activities that are designed to improve health in communities and increase access to healthcare. Such programs will provide treatment or promote health and healing as a response to an identified community need. They are integral to the mission of Catholic and other not-for-profit healthcare organizations and are the basis of tax exemption. To be called and counted as a benefit, a program must Improve access to healthcare services, enhance the health of the community, advance medical or health knowledge, and or relieve or reduce the burden of government or other efforts.

A program or service in not considered benefiting a community if it is provided for marketing purposes, is limited to hospital employees only, is a requirement of an insurer, and or is unrelated to the health and mission of our organization.

Community benefit programs are the basis of tax exemption as outlined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These programs are commonly called “charity care” or “medically-indigent care” and when we as a faith-based organization provide these services, we incur a financial loss. This loss is what we report to the IRS as a demonstration of our mission.

What is Community Health Improvement?

Community health improvement is concerned with bettering the health of a community in a specific geographic location. For our hospitals, that means the community in which they operate as well as their service areas. The goal is to identify health or social needs and fill the gap. One way in which we identify needs is through a community health needs assessment. 

A community health needs assessment is a planned process for determining and addressing needs or gaps between current conditions and desired wants. These gaps are typically measured in some way either by public health data (childhood immunization rates), social service data (households at or below the poverty level) or hospital data (emergency department visits <30 after discharge). 

The IRS tells us that we must describe how we planned our community health needs assessment process, how we included persons representing broad interests of the community, how we selected the top needs and how those not selected will be addressed in the community. We must also make the community health needs assessment widely available to the public and have a hospital implementation strategy. To ensure hospital leadership is involved, the community health needs assessment needs and implementation plan must be approved by the Board. You can view your hospitals current community health needs assessment through the list below

We don’t do this work alone. Improving the health of any community requires partners and especially those that have expertise and resources to fill the gap. For example, if the community health needs assessment identified that teen suicide was an area of need and improvement, the hospital would partner with the local health department and or mental health clinic to address the problem — they have the expertise and resources to make an impact. The hospital, as a partner, can bring hospital resources to the table (such as people) that will make addressing the gap more successful versus replicating efforts already in place.  

Examples of Community Benefit/Health Improvement at SCL Health:

  • Holy Rosary Healthcare, Miles City, Montana identified mental health issues as a need in their community. As a result of this finding, hospital Quality staff participates in the Mental Health Advisory Council as a means to address the gap.

  • Saint Joseph Hospital, Denver is situated in a very diverse and high need community.  While programs are many to serve the community, they focus large resources on access to health care by supporting the Bruner Family Medicine Clinic and Family Practice Residency program. 

  • St. Vincent Healthcare, Billings, Montana is working with patients who return to the hospital emergency department less than 30 days after discharge as a means to understand what other individual needs are not being met by existing processes.  

Making the Shift: Our Community Benefit Achievement Pyramid

CommunityAchievementPyramid300wLevel 3: Health Outcomes

The goals of any community health program are to decrease morbidity and mortality, improve quality of life, and reduce hospital admissions. We measure health outcomes from such programs objectively through existing or clinical metrics and these outcomes have an effect on the person going forward: i.e., when no cancer is found, hypertension is brought under control, better management of diabetes, reduction in the use of emergency services, and so on. Most “outcome” oriented community programs address chronic disease or are preventative in nature.

Level 2: Health Impact

At this level, SCL Health works with local partners to address health needs as identified in the hospital’s community health needs assessment (CHNA). A CHNA is a document that identifies and prioritizes a community health needs based on data and input from those who live in the community. Through this process, social and environmental issues that negatively affect health can be identified. The goal is to identify specific health risks and existing disease the community wants to address through policy, programs and projects. Examples of health impact would include community-level awareness and education on the risk of stroke, tobacco cessation programs, improving access to healthy food through farmers markets, health fairs, transportation vouchers, and the removal of sugar-sweetened beverages from hospital cafeterias.

Level 3: Lives Touched

This level refers to community involvement in a broader sense — we may not know if we had an impact nor if we improved a health outcome. For SCL Health, touching a life can include attending or sponsoring informational events about health topics; distributing free health information via newsletters, handouts or other media; and conducting or participating in media campaigns that promote health issues. We count the number of lives we've touched to gauge our continued involvement in our communities.

Benefiting Our Communities

Learn more from the Community Health Needs Assessments from each of our care sites:

Denver, Colo.: Saint Joseph Hospital

Wheat Ridge, Colo.: Lutheran Medical Center

Lafayette, Colo.: Good Samaritan Medical Center

Grand Junction, Colo.: St. Mary's Regional Medical Center

Billings, Mont.: St. Vincent Healthcare

Butte, Mont.: St. James Healthcare

Miles City, Mont.: Holy Rosary Healthcare

Topeka, Kan.: St. Francis Health

Proud of Our Service

Hospitals and Clinics of the  SCL Health take pride in serving as valued community partners


Not only do we provide excellent patient care, we also benefit the communities we serve with many special programs, outreach and financial support. We do this to enhance and improve the health of our communities overall with special concern for those who are underserved. Take a closer look at this contribution.