Lack of safety. Open consumption of alcohol and drug dealing. Littering. At a Community Chat sponsored by Baystate Health at our Springfield Family Resource Center on March 27, members of the public identified these and other quality-of-life issues as some of the more challenging barriers to a healthy community.

The Community Chat, facilitated by Brittney Gonzalez, community benefits specialist at Baystate Health (pictured), is part of a process in which local hospitals, health insurance agencies, and community organizations have been working together to conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). The effort includes information gleaned from interviews, conversations, focus groups, and community forums to determine what residents see as emerging health needs and pressing social problems that affect health in their community. This assessment takes place every three years to learn how the community can be better supported.

Regarding community safety, L’Tanya Giddens, a resident of the Maple Heights neighborhood, mentioned inadequate street lighting as a frustrating problem. A Forest Park resident agreed. “Sumner Avenue is really dark at night,” he said. “People are hit all the time there.” Also, drug dealing is prevalent with exchanges taking place “right in plain sight” said another. “You see people drunk and high on the bus,” he added, “and you see people drinking [alcohol] from open containers when you’re walking with your children down the street.”

Giddens said there “isn’t enough policing” of the community. “One night a few months ago I was sitting in my house and I heard gunfire,” she said. Shortly afterward, she attended a CP3 (Counter Criminal Continuum Policing) community meeting and discovered that one of the gunshots she heard that night went through an apartment window around the corner from her.

In fact, community safety was identified as a prioritized health need in the 2013 and 2016 CHNA reports, and judging from the Community Chat, it continues to impact residents. Violent crime rates in Hampden County, which contains the two largest cities in western Massachusetts—Springfield and Chicopee— are almost 50 percent higher than that of the state, according to the 2016 CHNA report. Studies have indeed shown that where one lives can have a huge impact on wellness.

One woman at the Community Chat thought low-quality primary health care as a problem, and others cited school bullying, lack of affordable transportation, lack of school safety, speeding cars, limited mobility for people with disabilities in older housing and on sidewalks, and inadequate services for special needs children in schools (specifically those with ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome).

Asked who are the vulnerable populations they’re worried about in their community, residents mentioned “the younger generation,” immigrants, people with mental illness, and people whose first language isn’t English.

Gonzalez asked those in attendance that in view of the issues they discussed, what did they see as programs and resources that help people in the community. They listed Gándara Center, CHD, the Springfield Resource Center’s food pantry, the Gray House in the North End, and the state’s food stamp program.

“We are pleased to assist the process of determining which health needs are most important to the local population,” said Sharon Hall-Smith, director of prevention and community services at Gándara Center. “We feel that our clients at the Springfield Family Resource Center are able to give valuable insights into social determinants of health.”

“Health begins where we live, learn, work, and play”—that is the motto that serves as the foundation being carried out by the CHNA. The goal is to gather comments from as many community members and stakeholders as possible, as well as to analyze and synthesize a variety of social, economic, and health data. Once all the information is obtained, the CHNA will be published in a final written report in the late summer.

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