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WNC Business

Curated data collection and support for health-related organizations

Feb 08, 2024 08:45AM ● By Randee Brown

WNC Health Network is a 28-year-old nonprofit that supports the people and organizations supporting community health. Their focus comprises a broad range of work including collecting and curating data for community health assessments, as well as supporting the facilitation, planning, and evaluation of projects, according to Executive Director Erin Braasch.

Community assessments formerly took place in individual counties, and Braasch said around 2010, hospitals and health departments decided these were better conducted as a region. WNCHN became an entity for collecting and curating data, allowing industry leaders to find information in one place rather than having to search through dozens of data resources on their own.

Industry representatives can review data to determine gaps in community healthcare needs and use that information to determine what additional offerings are needed in each area. Conducted every three years, the 2021 survey found the biggest impact on WNC’s families was COVID. WNCHN also looked into factors that may impact health, including the ability to stay hopeful during difficult times, if people felt discriminated against in education or acquiring health care, and if they felt safe in their communities.

The data collected is used by hospital partners as well as individual and public health care organizations, public schools, and nonprofit partners around the region to determine and plan their service offerings. Data also helps organizations leverage funding as it demonstrates specific needs to funders.

“We have this regional collaborative effort for identifying the data gaps,” Braasch said. “Then hospitals fund the survey that provides the data they need to make decisions about what to try to solve in our communities. In the last data cycle, hospital partners identified wanting to understand receptivity to the telemedicine trend that was exploding during the pandemic. They're just an example of the way partners identify data gaps that can help them with strategies.”

The top three priorities in the last data collection cycle were identified as mental health, substance abuse, and healthy eating/active living. As a result, WNCHN created a campaign called View From Here WNC, which provides social media content and outreach to the region developed from a listening session with community leaders and healthcare professionals relevant to those topics. 

“We’re seeing more people coming together to address those issues,” Braasch said. “Communities have said they need stronger messaging to disrupt the stigmas, and we are working together to generate energy around creating solutions, including letting people know what their resources are.”

WNCHN also provides results-based accountability training to a range of healthcare and nonprofit partners around the region. This type of training focuses on performance indicators to help organizations determine how helpful their work is for the community. It’s a standard online training offered twice a year for anyone who is interested. Braasch said community health improvement work using results based accountability is now being modeled and used by the North Carolina Department of Public Health and Human Services.

In its consulting work, WNCHN co-creates a tailored package of tools for organizations to determine specific needs and helps address them. Participants have included organizations like MANNA FoodBank and Vecinos, which provides health and wellness services for the uninsured Latinx community. Consulting work has also supported a variety of collaboratives including local governments, first responders, and school systems addressing substance abuse issues.

Braasch said WNCHN is a very accessible small team, and anyone interested is welcome to reach out to learn more. The organization is always looking for business leaders who may have an interest in serving on its board of directors. Leaders do not have to be in metro areas, as their regional footprint encourages participants from rural areas of the region.

“We’re more than a provider of health data, we collect a variety of health-related data,” Braasch said. “The data might be of interest for people needing to know about population composition, housing, transportation, and other things business people think about when they're thinking about growth or recruitment. The data could be very helpful for them as well.”