BY: VIRGINIA M. PEARSON
Ms. Pearson is executive director, Greater Baton Rouge Health Forum, Baton
In August 1993, the administrators of eight hospitals in East Baton Rouge Parish,
LA, were invited to a breakfast meeting at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical
Center, Baton Rouge, a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady (FMOL)
Health System, which is based in that city. On the agenda was a discussion of
the Catholic Health Association's community needs assessment process, Social
Accountability Budget: A Process for Planning and Reporting Community Service
in a Time of Fiscal Restraint (St. Louis, 1989). Were the administrators
interested in conducting such an assessment in their community?
It was the first time that some of the meeting's participants had even
met. Given that fact — and the fact that they represented competing organizations — their
coming together to talk about a collaborative project was a bold step to take.
As far as they knew, no similar group had ever gathered to discuss such an assessment.
"I felt that it just made sense for us to carry out this project as a group
rather than individually," said the meeting's organizer, Robert Davidge,
the CEO of Our Lady of the Lake. "An assessment would produce the kind
of community-level information we could all use in our own strategic planning.
Beyond that, none of us knew where it might lead."
Davidge suggested that if the administrators were to agree to conduct a community
assessment, they might choose to do so in different ways. Before the meeting
was over, however, all eight had opted to participate to the fullest extent
possible. The assessment was planned to last six months. I, who had some experience
in conducting needs assessments, was hired to lead it. I had only recently moved
to Baton Rouge and thus could have no bias regarding any of the participating
Three committees were formed. One was staffed by people who had expertise in
marketing and communications, the second by people with expertise in research.
The third committee, which I led, was assigned to conduct personal interviews
and focus groups throughout the community (I provided training for this group).
Members of all three committees helped develop a list of people to be interviewed
in the assessment. Over the next six months, I met with the administrators once
a month to ensure that all had input and were aware of the assessment's
The assessment report was presented to the administrators in April 1994 and
approved by them with no changes or edits (see Robert C. Davidge and Virginia
M. Pearson, "Healthy Vision," Health
Progress, July-August 1995). Information concerning the availability of health and social service
programs appeared to be the area's biggest need. Reporting on the presentation
meeting, we wrote:
As in many other U.S. communities, Baton Rouge residents' top 10 needs
center around social issues that have health implications. Most persons interviewed
and those who participated in focus groups say they are quite satisfied with
the level of acute care available to Baton Rouge residents. They believe that
most, if not all, needed services are already available for persons who are
knowledgeable . . . and have the money or insurance to cover the cost of healthcare.
. . . But what about community residents without access to a central information
clearinghouse? They have no way of knowing what services are readily available.
After a discussion of the report's contents and of the ways the information
gathered in it affected each of the eight participating organizations, the conversation
turned to what might be done as a next step. The administrators decided to form
a permanent organization, which they called the "Baton Rouge Health Forum,"
and asked me to be its executive director. Among other things, the forum, which
would meet on a monthly basis, would serve as a clearinghouse for health and
social services in the area.
The forum then went on to sponsor a number of community health projects (see
Virginia M. Pearson, "Five Years of Collaboration," Health
- In 1994, the forum published a health resource manual for local high school
students (Louisiana requires graduating seniors to take a semester-long course
- During the 1997-1998 school year, member hospitals provided free hepatitis
B inoculations for fifth-graders in both public and private schools in four
- In 1998, the forum sponsored presentations, by an Atlanta physician, to
more than 200 health care professionals on the management of sickle cell anemia.
- Beginning in 1999, the forum conducted seven free screenings for several
varieties of cancer, high blood pressure, and depression; this program continues
- Also in 1999, the forum provided initial funding for a Free Pharmacy at
the St. Vincent DePaul Society.
- In 2000, the forum became the initial sponsor of a service providing medical
and dental services to the working uninsured (see Virginia Pearson, "Baton
- Rouge's ‘Virtual Clinic,'" Health
- In 2002, the forum sponsored a flu-prevention drive, including posters,
public service announcements, and bookmarks
The Forum Today
The forum is now more than a decade old. Of the eight people who gathered for
the 1993 meeting, Davidge alone continues as the representative of a member
organization. But all eight original organizations continue to send representatives
to the forum's meetings. In fact, the original eight have been joined by
six others. Whereas the original group included only East Baton Rouge Parish
hospitals, it now represents all of the hospitals in a six-parish region. As
a result, it has been renamed the Greater Baton Rouge Health Forum (GBRHF).
Similar hospital councils exist in other parts of the United States, but few,
if any, have been around as long as the GBRHF. And few, if any, can say they
comprise all area hospitals in their membership, as the forum can.
Today the forum's membership includes two Catholic hospitals (both members
of the FMOL Health System), the regional "charity" hospital (one of
Louisiana's ten state-run public hospitals), two "service district"
hospitals (local public hospitals), the Easn Baton Rouge Parish Medical Society,
and Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle I have faced over the years is keeping GBRHF lists
updated: When committee members change jobs or organizations, those seats must
be filled by others. Changes have also occurred on the forum's board; over
the past decade, all member organizations except for our Lady of the Lake have
changed their CEOs at least once. Some of the for-profit member organizations
have changed owners.
GBRHF's main work continues to be done through committees, each of which
I chair. Forum members can participate in as many of these committees as they
One of GBRHF's earliest committees, the Community Benefit Committee, formed
in 1996, created guidelines and a process through which help could be requested
from the forum. This group handles requests for sponsorship of and volunteers
for health fairs, fund-raisers, and other events. Because the committee has
focused on health-related requests (such as childhood obesity and hepatitis
B), in member organizations' immediate service areas, it has been able
to reduce requests by more than 75 percent. Recommendations from the committee
are approved or rejected by the GBRHF board at its meetings.
In addition to taking requests for help, the committee also proposes projects
for the forum to carry out. One example is the local St. Vincent de Paul Society's
Free Pharmacy, which provides free medications to people who are unable to purchase
them. Local physicians and pharmaceutical companies donate medical samples to
the pharmacy, which is open four days a week and has a full-time pharmacist
who oversees the program. The Free Pharmacy helps area residents get the medications
they need to maintain their health without depriving themselves of other essentials.
Another recent initiative supported by the committee is the Baton Rouge Children's
Advocacy Center, a place where physically and sexually abused children can be
interviewed by a multidisciplinary task force in a child-friendly environment.
The GBRHF provided the center with a grant to help it get started.
The GBRHF's Emergency Preparedness Committee, formed in 2000, has taken
on a new importance since September 11, 2001. One of the forum's largest
committees, the group now includes representatives of the local emergency medical
services, phone company (when communication issues are on the agenda), the state's
Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the U.S. Office of Public Health. Perhaps
the most important new committee members are representatives of the Louisiana
National Guard, who have made presentations to the committee concerning decontamination
and appropriate emergency preparedness preparations.
Other GBRHF committees are:
- The Advance Directive Committee, which was formed to produce communication
tools concerning advance directives
- The Marketing Committee, which won a marketing award for its work during
a recent flu prevention campaign
- The Community Education Committee, which conducts free community screenings;
it has distributed free colorectal cancer screening kits among adult area
residents and sponsored anti-smoking programs for elementary school students.
In partnership with local dermatologists, it also conducts free skin cancer
screenings — a popular offering in a region where skin cancer is common
- The Human Resource Committee, composed by the member organizations'
human resource directors, which meets monthly to discuss staffing shortages
and the best way to address them
- The HIPAA Committee, which has offered four workshops on patient privacy
to employees of GBRHF member organizations. The committee recently developed
In addition, the GBRHF and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation have engaged a philosophy
professor from the university to attend ethics committee meetings at the member
hospitals, devise an ethics curriculum for medical residents, and produce educational
programs for both forum members and the community at large.
In short, GBRHF's committees:
- Identify areas in which member organizations can work better together than
separately to accomplish health care goals
- Develop ways in which, by working together, those organizations can make
their own jobs easier
- Avoid duplication of effort
The community response to the GBRHF has been overwhelmingly positive, especially
from area business leaders. Several years ago the forum considered adding other
kinds of health care organizations — such as long-term care centers and managed
care organizations — to its membership. Local business people who responded
to a survey suggested that enlarging the GBRHF's membership might make
the forum less effective. As a result, the GBRHF has continued to be primarily
a partnership of hospitals. From time to time, other community organizations
are invited to participate in forum initiatives as appropriate, but they do
not become full members.
In recent years, area business leaders have suggested that the GBRHF take a
more visible role in identifying local health needs. The forum's Planning
Committee recently developed a strategic plan for the greater Baton Rouge area.
Working with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals' Parish
Health Profiles, national resources such as Healthy People 2010 and Bright
Futures, and local surveys, the committee developed a document called Healthy
Baton Rouge 2004-2006 for the forum and its members to use in planning future
We are still a pioneering initiative. We have no map to follow. What we do
have is our collective desire to do what is best for the health of our community
and the people we serve.
The Greater Baton Rouge Health Forum
The forum's member organizations are:
Ascension Hospital, Gonzales, LA
East Baton Rouge Parish Medical Society
Baton Rouge General
HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, Lafayette, LA
Lane Memorial Hospital, Zachary, LA
Louisiana State University-Earl K. Long Medical Center, Baton Rouge
Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Baton Rouge
Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Baton Rouge
River West Medical Center, Plaquemine, LA
St. Elizabeth Hospital, Gonzales, LA
Summit Hospital, Baton Rouge
West Feliciana Hospital, St. Francisville, LA
Woman's Hospital, Baton Rouge
Mission and Values Statement
The mission of the Greater Baton Rouge Health Forum is to improve the health
status of the Greater Baton Rouge Community by:
- Identifying and prioritizing community health needs through an ongoing process
and through community partnerships
- Coordinating and leveraging the resources and influence of its member institutions
to bring them to bear on improving community health
We are known and trusted members of the Baton Rouge community and we conduct
ourselves and the forum's business with integrity. As important as what
we do is how and why we do it. Our work is based on the following values:
- Collaboration We will cooperate and work together to achieve common
goals. Recognizing that there are some things that we can do better together
than we can as individual organizations, we will work for the greater good
of the communities which we serve.
- Compassion When one in our community suffers, we all suffer. Our
work together will be done to support and aid identified community needs.
- Commitment We pledge to consider each potential collaborative program
or service to determine what will best meet the needs of the individuals we
serve. We will then determine what resources can best be utilized to achieve
- Community As a nationally unique organization of health care providers,
our goal is to provide help and service to both our internal communities (staff,
physicians, patients, visitors) and our external communities (area businesses,
social service organizations, residents of the greater Baton Rouge area).
Copyright © 2004 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.