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Backus Hospital Unveils 2022 Community Health Improvement Plan

January 18, 2022

Backus Hospital has released its 2022 Community Health Improvement Plan, identifying four areas of focus that are intended to address root causes of community health issues. The hospital’s community health department will work in conjunction with community partners to continue or implement programs that will be most effective in impacting change. “As community health leaders, this plan is essentially our call to action over the next three years to do our part to assure those we serve live long and healthy lives,” said Joseph Zuzel, director of Community Health for Hartford HealthCare’s East Region. “Community partnerships will be a key ingredient to achieving success. This plan aims to further develop and pursue active engagement with the community.” The 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) for Backus leveraged numerous sources of local, regional, state and national data along with input from community-based organizations and individuals. In addition to assessing traditional health status indicators, the 2021 CHNA took a close look at social determinants of health (SDH) such as poverty, housing, transportation, education, fresh food availability, and neighborhood safety and contains an Equity Profile. These two enhancements are in response to the lessons of COVID and in recognition of an emerging national priority to identify and address health disparities and inequities.  HHC and Backus are committed to addressing these disparities and inequities through its Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). “Health assessments help us examine changes to the health of our community, provide insights as to how residents can lead healthy and happy lives, and identify key health issues facing the community,” said Zuzel. “The definition of health now includes the quality of the community in which we live, work, and play – not just the lifestyle habits of individuals. A comprehensive assessment process must provide a framework that helps communities prioritize public health issues; identify resources for addressing them; and effectively develop and implement community health improvement plans.” The Backus Hospital region consists of Bozrah, Franklin, Griswold, Ledyard, Lisbon, Montville, Norwich, Plainfield, Preston, and Sprague. The four areas of focus are:

  1. Promote Healthy Behaviors and Lifestyles.
  2. Reduce the Burden of Chronic Disease.
  3. Improve Health Equity, Social Determinants of Health, and Access to and Coordination of Care and Services.
  4. Enhance Community-Based Behavioral Health Services.

Community Assessment Results

The focus areas were identified based on results of surveys, interviews and analysis of data from other sources. Norwich and the towns around it have subpar life expectancy, severe levels of food insecurity and poverty, higher rates of diabetes, smoking and obesity, and higher rates of language isolation. Drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed, and depression and anxiety are reported more than the state average.
  • Self-rated health “Excellent” or “Very Good” is 46 percent in Norwich compared to 60 percent in Connecticut (Data Haven).
  • Comparatively Short life expectancy (years) Norwich 77.4 compared to 80.3 Connecticut (Data Haven).
  • Food Insecurity Backus HSA: Black 25 percent, Latino 36 percent, White 14 percent compared to 13 percent Connecticut (Data Haven).
  • Share of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl, 2019-20 in Backus HSA 87 percent as compared to Share of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl, 2015-16 in Backus HSA 59 percent.
  • Poverty Rate Black in Backus HSA 18 percent as compared to the poverty rate white in the Backus HSA 7 percent.
  • Poverty Rate Latino in Backus HSA 14 percent as compared to the poverty rate white in the Backus HSA 7 percent.


Zuzel’s team has developed programming and strategies to address the four focus areas.

Healthy Behaviors

RX for Health provides vouchers for fresh produce to individuals who are in need of nutritional support. Funded by Backus Hospital, vouchers are distributed in various settings such as pediatrician offices, soup kitchens, diabetes services, farmers markets, etc. Vouchers are currently exchanged at the Norwich Farmers’ Market and Backus hospital farm stand. It is the goal to expand grocery options for vouchers in the future. Healthy Choices is a program unique to the East Region - a Backus Hospital-based registered dietician holds two information sessions at a local food pantry to teach first staff and then volunteers about food choices specific to several health conditions, including kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes. In this way the pantry can provide disease specific food boxes. Freedom From Smoking program offered in conjunction with the American Lung Association and Uncas Health District.


  • Create a community benefit infrastructure within Backus Hospital for greater knowledge of hospital-based community services.
  • Provide information and services that are linguistically responsive and culturally relevant in order to facilitate access to health related services.

Chronic Disease

Healthy Cooking initiative that will be implemented in New London County. The Community Health Department in conjunction with Backus Hospital Food Services and Nutrition departments will offer cooking classes at no cost to individuals at a local teaching kitchen. Patients are invited to participate based on a Chronic disease diagnosis. (Cardiac, diabetes, renal, need for nutritional support, etc.) A-OK with HHC is a program designed to meet the underserved members of our community where they are. A-OK consists of a blood pressure screening, along with an Hgb A1c test to screen for the possibility of diabetes. During testing, participants will be given culturally relevant education materials.

Behavioral Health

  • In hospital, identify at-risk patients, implement interventions, and establish triple aim goals for experience of care, cost, and population health.
  • Investigate and document the effectiveness of the Recovery Coach program.
  • Provide support groups at Backus Hospital.