In order to find an answer to a problem, one must first ask a question. Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute (UHI) plans on using that philosophy to learn about the health concerns of Baltimore residents.

The UHI is in the beginning phases of planning a health assessment for residents in East Baltimore. The assessment itself is not scheduled to start until September, 2011, and will likely last for a few months according to UHI Associate Director Chris Gibbons.

“In order to fix something, you have to know what’s broken,” Gibbons said. “We have to understand what we’re doing in order to do the right thing.”

The assessment, which will be a collaborative effort with UHI and a number of community groups and organizations, will also give them an idea of where to start. There are a number of health concerns and problems in the East Baltimore community, Gibbons said, but knowing what the most pressing health problems are and which need to be priorities will give them a better idea of where to start.

The survey will also aim to find out various health care related issues affecting the community such as the number of individuals who use Johns Hopkins’ medical services, and what most individuals are treated for when they are admitted to the hospital. The survey will also try to ascertain where most people in the community go for particular health care services, the number of people who are turned away by Johns Hopkins, and why they are turned away.

Finding answers to the aforementioned concerns is why Leon Purnell, the executive director of the Men & Family Center, is one of the community leaders taking part in the assessment. He hopes it addresses the health disparities those in East Baltimore are faced with—lack of access to health care due to many residents not having insurance, the quality of health care those same residents receive, and the lack of respect they are seemingly given.

Though he has assisted with previous community health assessments that fizzled out early, Purnell said past mistakes have only made him optimistic about this one.

“I’m hopeful that by bringing the major players to the table early in the process this time, we can get it off and running,” he said. “It’s not hard to see the problems that need to be addressed. You can walk down the street and see many of the problems that we have here.”

Gibbons said that those involved with the assessment will reconvene in a month to continue the process, and will discuss the most effective way to administer the assessment to the community. Gibbons could not make any guarantees about results the survey may bring, but did mention that the overall goal of the assessment is to improve health problems in all of East Baltimore—not just those in the community surrounding Johns Hopkins.

“Ideally, we would like to reach the entire area of East Baltimore,” he said. “We’re interested in more than the five houses around the hospital or university.”