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How One Hospital Built a Public Health Innovation, Literally from the Ground Up

by Stephanie Guidry, BSN,MBA
CEO Bayou Bend Health System

What do obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer all have in common? For starters, they’re the most prevalent — and pressing — health problems affecting the population served by Bayou Bend Health System (BBHS), a small but flourishing 22-bed critical access hospital located in the rural town of Franklin, La. In addition, regular exercise is known to help prevent or manage each of these ailments. Even with cancer, guidelines recommend that physicians “prescribe” exercise to improve treatment outcomes.

That’s why BBHS, in a bid to improve overall community health, has invested $23 million into building a wellness center on the hospital campus. Open to the public, the facility is designed as a welcoming, un-intimidating environment catering to all levels of fitness. 

The crown jewel of the new 60,000-square-foot wellness center is its fitness facility, filled with state-of-the-art exercise equipment that comes with on-screen demos for proper use and generates progress reports that can be shared with healthcare providers. The facility also has group-class studios, an indoor walking track, a four-lane lap pool and an exercise therapy pool.

Catering to the Community’s Needs

The hospital’s latest community health needs assessment (CHNA) validated the need for the wellness center. Aside from pinpointing the specific health threats of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, the CHNA categorized population health overall as “very poor.”

Our hospital leaders weren’t unprepared for the findings, having already explored novel ways to improve community health. For assistance, we engaged CHC Consulting to help complete the CHNA, which also led to the development of cardiopulmonary and senior behavioral health programs to better meet the needs of the community. On the hospital’s behalf, CHC Consulting completed pro forma financial reports affirming the feasibility of the wellness center and service line additions. Then, they vetted partners to manage the wellness center. Subsequently, we selected Dallas-based Cooper Wellness Strategies to help BBHS carry out our mission — and legal mandate — to address our community’s specific health issues.

Vision, Investment and Ongoing Assessment

A CHNA yields data and insights about the community’s current health status and needs, and also indicates how and where resources should be allocated to best meet those needs. With this information, hospitals develop an implementation plan, investing in programs and initiatives aimed at addressing identified issues.

The implementation plan includes a rationale for each priority, followed by objectives, specific implementation activities, responsible leaders, annual updates and progress.

As part of a pilot program, the Louisiana Department of Health will assess the BBHS wellness center’s impact on targeted health challenges, with an eye toward expanding the concept to other rural communities facing similar challenges. A health department epidemiologist will track specific measurements, such as individuals’ A1C levels, to determine whether the wellness center is fulfilling its intended purpose and quantifiably improving community health in predefined areas. 

As far as health status overall, actuarial data suggests that even if community use of the BBHS wellness center bumps the population’s health status up from “very poor” to “poor,” that could extend life expectancy by 10 to 15 years.

An Innovation and an Invitation

Regarding the wellness center, BBHS leaders aren’t counting on the Field of Dreams philosophy, “If you build it, they will come.” The opening of the wellness center occurred amid an intensive marketing campaign to convey a loud-and-clear message that the facility is for everyone’s use, enjoyment and self-improvement. 

The goal is to bring about a new commonality among obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer: Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, their rates will all be declining in and around Franklin, La. 



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