Can hospitals become hubs for improving community health?

Hospitals are logical hubs for tackling community socioeconomic issues that affect population health, but several challenges stand in the way, according to a new discussion paper from the Brookings Institute.

The paper is based on experiences at Washington Adventist Hospital, a community hospital in the District of Columbia's Maryland suburbs. The hospital, part of the Adventist HealthCare system, emphasizes community care and "has aggressively undertaken a range of community initiatives" to address so-called upstream factors influencing community health, according to the executive summary.  

Those initiatives include working with an organization that helps connect discharged patients with social services, benefits and faith-based nurses programs; a strategy to tackle safety and other issues in high-crime housing projects; and a proposal with the county for the provision of transitional housing for homeless patients.

Challenges uncovered while researching Adventist's experiences included:

  • Because a hospital's impact on a community is rarely measured or rewarded, there are "insufficient incentives for hospitals to realize their full potential."
  • The regulatory and budget flexibility required to promote creative approaches to upstream community issues is rarely available, especially at the state and county level.
  • Data interoperability and privacy laws hamper the data sharing required for creating effective partnerships.

The paper is part of a Brookings series on building healthy neighborhoods.

Already hospitals are collaborating with one another, often on a regional level, to partner with community organizations and assess community health needs, FierceHealthcare previously reported. But, four out of five queried for a study said they didn't have the financial resources to address population health. Fewer than 1 in 5 said their hospital had programs to address socioeconomic health issues.

Unemployment and lack of a high school education are the most statistically significant socioeconomic factors in 30-day readmissions for heart failure, heart attacks and pneumonia, research has shown.

For more:
- download the paper (.pdf)
- here's the executive summary