Sparta Community Hospital recognized as Illinois’ ‘Community Star’, HSHS St. Francis Hospital gains honorable mention

Community Star Award Winner - Sparta Community Hospital

Sparta Community Hospital has been named Illinois' 2022 "Community Star," the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) recently announced. On the third Thursday of November, NOSORH leads National Rural Health Day (NRHD), an annual celebration that honors those serving the vital health needs of nearly 61 million rural Americans. In conjunction with NRHD, NOSORH made a nationwide call for nominations, seeking individuals, organizations, and coalitions making a positive impact in rural communities.

As the overall Illinois winner, Sparta Community Hospital was featured in the 2022 edition of the Community Star eBook, which is available on the official NRHD website, Power of Rural. HSHS St. Francis Hospital, Litchfield, was named Illinois' "Community Star" Honorable Mention honoree. The eBook showcases the stories of "Community Stars" from 48 states, exemplifying this year's NRHD theme of "Driving Change and Going the Extra Mile." The Community Star Recognition Program is designed to honor those whose contributions are making a difference in rural healthcare through collaboration, education, innovation, and communication.

Since 2019, Sparta Community Hospital has been a member of the Delta Region Community Health Systems Development program. In three years of participation, program advisors have worked closely with SCH to identify health equity challenges in the communities it serves including several financial, operational, quality improvement, telehealth, and community care coordination projects. The SCH staff have not only been committed to ensuring access to healthcare services within the community of Sparta but improving them throughout the service area.

"Efforts of the collaboration include a focus on the identified priorities of healthy eating and also, mental health and substance use services and education through community care coordination projects. Collecting and using data and understanding how to create a responsive and sustainable foundation of local healthcare access in southern Illinois continues to be a team effort," said Kaarin Lund, MPH, Community Program Specialist, National Rural Health Resource Center. "Sparta Community Hospital's strong leadership creates an environment that community organizations want to participate in - and other rural healthcare organizations will want to replicate - to address the needs of residents." SCH is represented by Joann Emge, CEO, and Jennifer Barbour, SCH's Community Champion.

"If I had to describe how we are driving change, it would be in these three words: collaboration, commitment, and equity," said Joann Emge, CEO, Sparta Community Hospital. "The goal is to improve the wellness of our communities by providing and coordinating value-based health services. As a rural critical access hospital, we are our community's primary deliverer of care. Like many rural hospitals across the nation, our focus extends past the physical health of the individual to the overall wellness of the community.

"We were able to purchase two mobile health clinics through COVID relief funding. This has been a major goal of the organization for a few years and turned out to be one of those 'silver linings' of COVID," Emge added. "The mobile health clinics have allowed us to be more strategic and innovative with increasing access to care in our community. We've partnered with neighboring municipalities where a brick-and-mortar clinic doesn't exist and where there are transportation challenges to offer care via the mobile clinic."

Alongside partners like the Rotary, Randolph County Health Department, University of Illinois Extension, the Franklin, Jackson, Perry, Randolph, and Williamson Counties Extensions, and Randolph County Farm Bureau, SCH has been able to provide kids cooking classes, a "Prep. Freeze. Cook" class that created nearly 1,750 servings of meals, "Mission Nutrition" educational classes, helped increase transportation access to food pantries, and worked with farmers' markets and pantries to provide coupons to increase access to healthy, locally grown food.

SCH and community partners have also combined efforts to address mental health and substance use services and education. A "Community Resource Guide," which highlights currently available resources in the region, has been created as a result of this effort and shared with residents. Through that work, the group found that other organizations were duplicating efforts, so in October 2021, SCH came together with the Southern Illinois Substance Abuse Alliance, Drug Free Communities, ComWell, NAMI Southwest IL, Randolph County Housing Authority, Washington County Hospital, and U of I Extension to talk about the priorities and activities of the individual groups. The group identified key areas of overlap and determined it was imperative to form an alliance of key organizations to support mental health and address substance use needs of their community, and also to share data, evaluation, and work to create sustainable change. Since that time, this group has been working to develop a vision, strategic plan, and organizational structure to ensure the sustainability of their efforts.

"Sparta Community Hospital's leadership, strategic thinking, and commitment to community residents allows the Community Champion to impact population health level change with community partners," said Lund. "Their commitment to listen to residents, build capacity, provide education, address health equity challenges, partner with community organizations, and adapt how they meet needs in an innovative way, creates policy, system, and environmental changes that can sustain efforts for the future."