Strong partnerships crucial to community health initiatives, hospital executives say

Hospital executives say building effective partnerships is central to a strong community health program. (Pixabay)

Hospitals are engaged in improving community health out of a commitment to their organizational missions and are entering into partnerships—including with competitors—to do so, according to a new report. 

Eleven executives participating in the BUILD (Bold, Upstream, Integrated, Local and Data-driven) Health Challenge shared their thoughts on the process for the report, which was released by BUILD and the de Beaumont Foundation. The executives who were interviewed said their organizations were built on a longstanding legacy of community health work, and that was a major driver in their continued participation.

One said the ultimate goal of their participation was to become "the kind of hospital that actually is unnecessary in the lives of most people around it." 

"We want to be here for the people who need it, but not create a pipeline of patients," the executive said. "We want to do the opposite, which is creating communities that are healthy and may not ever come to visit our hospital." 

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That commitment has led hospitals into new partnerships to increase their community health reach. BUILD's model includes three prongs for alignment: a hospital or health system, a community-based organization and a public health agency, according to the report. However, since the program has started, competing health systems have joined forces on community health issues. 

The executives said that there are three key elements to a sustainable partnership between a hospital or health system and a community organization, according to the report: 

  1. Consistent funding streams from multiple sources: All elements of the partnership should be contributing money to the project, instead of foisting much of the financial cost on the hospital involved.
  2. Community engagement and marketing: Build a following through social media and print marketing to foster conversations about what the community wants and needs, according to the report. Adapting to what the community needs most shows the value of these efforts.
  3. Shared accountability: Roles for each partner should be clearly outlined, and regular meetings can ensure that everyone involved is accountable. Keep lines of communication open to maintain transparency between partners.

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Some of the executives said they work with outside agencies to monitor community interest and involvement in these health initiatives, and others said it's crucial to align with partners who can stay involved beyond a grant or other quick funding. 

"We look for partners that already have a history and commitment in the community," one executive said. "They're not partnering with us because they want to survive—they're partnering with us because they're passionate about an outcome."