Fourteen of the country's largest hospital systems on Tuesday pledged to invest more than $700 million toward community-based initiatives aimed at addressing the economic and environmental drivers behind a widening disparity in health outcomes.
The funding over the next five years will go toward projects to tackle housing instability, food insecurity and economic revitalization, among other issues. The effort is part of a national campaign organized by the Healthcare Anchor Network, a collaborative of 45 hospitals and health systems launched in 2017 to help providers learn and share ways to implement strategies aimed at economic inclusion of communities.
David Zuckerman, director for healthcare engagement for the Anchor Network's parent organization, the Democracy Collaborative, said some of the investments have been rolled out over the past year. One of the largest of such investments came from network member Kaiser Permanente, which last year pledged to commit $200 million toward increasing affordable housing in northern California and other parts of the country.
But he said the latest announcement marked the first time that health systems such as RWJBarnabas Health, UMass Memorial Health Care and Intermountain Healthcare pledged to allocate money toward impact investments.
Advocate Aurora Health was one of those first-time investors. The health system said it would commit $50 million to a renewable fund to provide capital for community development organizations to work on economic development projects.
"It's the first time that systems have acknowledged that this strategy of impact investment should be part of their overall strategy for improving health and well-being in their communities," Zuckerman said.
Health systems are uniquely positioned to drive economic development since many are the largest employers and purchasers of products and services within their states, according to Zuckerman.
Despite having such economic leverage, areas surrounding some of the country's largest and most prominent urban hospitals and medical centers make up some of the poorest communities. Their residents experience poorer health outcomes and shorter life expectancies compared to more affluent areas.
While the bulk of providers' investments will go toward financing affordable housing development, other initiatives include building a grocery store in a food desert, creating childcare centers, opening more community health center sites, and funding new local minority- and women-owned businesses.
Each participating health system has pledged to submit annual data to provide metrics to track their activities, Zuckerman said. The Democracy Collaborative will help provide technical assistance and serve as a resource for providers to get and share information on implementing their initiatives.
Zuckerman was hopeful the initiatives would spark new conversations about the role hospitals can and should play in addressing social determinants of health.
"This is a strategy I think every hospital can look at, but this strategy alone is one piece in the puzzle toward addressing community conditions," Zuckerman said. "I think what we're asking systems to do is to look at their practices and ask a different set of questions."