If you see basic human needs being met in your community, you’ll likely find a partnership is driving the response. Often a local hospital is involved. Our experience on the front lines of healthcare shows that to improve the health of our communities, collaboration between hospitals and health systems and community-based organizations is pivotal.
Hospitals and community organizations have been working together for many years to identify priority health and social needs and then design creative initiatives and interventions to ensure all people can enjoy their best possible health. I’ve seen many hospital-community collaborations lead to meaningful change, such as expanded access to healthcare services, reduced health inequities and broader positive health outcomes.
Though it’s been our nation’s greatest health challenge in decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in us, showing that we can overcome obstacles when healthcare providers, community organizations, government agencies and individuals work together. This spirit of unity and cooperation allowed us to overcome shortages of personal protective equipment, manage surge capacity, meet ventilator demand, increase testing and get shots into arms.
Throughout the pandemic, hospital and community groups formed coalitions to establish dedicated quarantine sites for people with unsafe home environments. Businesses manufactured hand sanitizer and respirators, and local residents and groups sewed masks. Technology companies have worked with healthcare organizations to accelerate virtual care. Restaurants have donated food to healthcare workers and to individuals and families in need. Major league sports organizations offered their stadiums and worked with hospitals and health systems to host mass vaccination sites. Churches and hospitals organized pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics in neighborhoods to reach people, especially those who may be less able to travel to larger sites or are less confident about getting the vaccine.
At Providence, the health system that I am privileged to lead, we stored vaccine for public health departments, sent extra ventilators to governments to redistribute, organized mask manufacturing, supported or set up large and small vaccine sites, funded food banks, staffed mobile clinics for underserved communities and much more. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve done this by working in cooperation with other organizations, joining together to serve patients and the public alike.
These are just some of the ways community partnerships and collaborations across sectors, including with local public health departments, are making a positive difference in people’s lives. They are defining moments that reflect the shared values of our hospitals, health systems and leading community organizations.
And there’s more we can—and are—doing together: identifying, assessing and prioritizing community health and social needs; developing and implementing interventions to address unmet needs; ensuring equitable access to safe, quality and affordable healthcare; and improving data-sharing, research and ongoing education and communication.
This week the American Hospital Association has been leading Community Health Improvement Week—a time to celebrate and honor those working in partnership to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities. We’re encouraging teams from hospitals, national organizations and community organizations to reflect on health disparities illuminated by the pandemic and consider what more can be done to improve the well-being of all people.
There are opportunities right now to renew our shared commitment to community health improvement. Cross-sector partners can rise together, investing in one another and our neighborhoods so that we can ultimately strengthen entire communities through creative collaboration.