Community health programs: 5 goals for hospital-community partnerships


Hospitals that want to create a community benefits program must take finances and the financial impact on the community under consideration, according to a new 72-page guide issued by the American Hospital Association in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Hospital-community partnerships face many challenges, including limited funding, lack of structure, differing organizational cultures, disparate data collection and storage, limited operational resources, and the need for leadership and organizational buy-in, according to the executive summary of the report, “Creating Effective Hospital Community Partnerships to Build a Culture of Health.”

In order to overcome these barriers, hospitals must follow a systematic process to form effective partnership that ensure the program has the necessary structure, representation and funding.  

Non-profit hospitals have been under pressure in recent years to justify their tax exemptions through its delegation of resources for community benefits. In 2012, the AHA said about 11 percent of revenue was earmarked for community benefits, although a significant amount of that is correlated to bad debt expense as opposed to providing specific programs outside of the hospital walls.

Hospitals that create community benefits programs must guarantee: 

  • Everyone has access to affordable, quality healthcare

  • No one in the community is excluded

  • The program provides efficient and equitable healthcare 

  • The program doesn't burden the economy with excessive and unwarranted healthcare spending

  • Economic and environmental development are integral parts of the program

And in putting together a community benefits program, all involved parties must also present a return-on-investment case to leaders at all the relevant organizations.

The report cites several hospital community benefit program success stories, including the walking and biking paths built by Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and the community health clinics that Montefiore Medical Center in New York City opened to expand primary care services in the Bronx.

To learn more:
– read the AHA report (.pdf)