Executive Message

Executive Message

Provided by Sheryl Garland, Chief of Health Impact, VCU Health System

VCU Health has a long history of collaborating with community partners to support the health-related needs of the populations we serve.  A host of initiatives have been launched over the years, and our organization has been challenged to link these community engagement activities to a coordinated strategy. 

In 2018, Dr. Marsha Rappley established the Chief of Health Impact role to develop a strategic direction for the organization and build partnerships to make measurable, sustainable improvement on health issues that affect the lives of people in communities we serve.  Often health issues are related to conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play, and are referred to as social determinants of health.  These determinants often lead to health inequities and disparities across populations.  According to the County Health Rankings model, which ranks the health of cities and counties in the nation, how long and how well individuals live are primarily related to social determinants and factors associated with the physical environment.

Focusing on the Vision by Design “Care for the Commonwealth” strategic theme, the Health Impact team has outlined four primary goals to organize a strategy for VCU Health:

  1. Improve health indicators that disproportionately impact populations who reside in communities served by our health system and health sciences schools
  2. Address social determinants of health that negatively affect the health outcomes of populations served
  3. Develop financial and delivery system models to support vulnerable patient populations, and
  4. Implement population health strategies that reduce costs, improve quality, enhance the patient experience, and promote provider satisfaction.

The development of an organizational framework has helped foster stronger partnerships with community organizations that focus on achieving measurable outcomes for the patient populations we serve.  One example is the VCU Health System’s participation in the Accountable Health Communities initiative. Through a partnership with Health Quality Innovators (HQI) and several community providers, VCU Health is participating in a nationwide effort to identify individuals with health-related social needs and connect them to community resources. 

Since the fall of 2018, more than 50 VCU students have been trained in the use of a standardized social determinants screening tool.  To date, they have screened and referred more than 8,000 patients across the health system to community agencies that provide assistance with food insecurity, housing instability, utility assistance, non-medical transportation, and interpersonal violence.

Another initiative launched in 2018 is the Medical-Legal Partnership – Richmond (MLP-Richmond).  MLP-Richmond is an innovative program that embeds lawyers in our clinics to provide timely, compassionate legal services to our low-income patients.  These legal services address social issues rooted in legal problems that affect health and quality of life for our patients.  MLP-Richmond provides free legal services at Massey Cancer Center and the Children’s Hospital of Richmond (Children’s Pavilion on the MCV Campus) to eligible patients in the areas of health, public benefits, employment, housing, insurance, family, life planning, and consumer law.

Finally, there is a great deal of excitement over the opening of the VCU Health Hub at 25th that will focus on addressing the needs of residents in Richmond’s East End, many of whom receive care at our health system. This facility located adjacent to a new community grocery store will provide health education and wellness services.  This unique model brings together VCU and VCU Health System faculty, team members, and students focused on working with community partners to support identified needs and develop programs to improve the health and well-being of residents of this community.  

Through initiatives such as these, VCU Health has the opportunity to enhance our legacy of providing quality health care while also engaging with community partners to improve the overall health of the Commonwealth of Virginia.