All nonprofit hospitals are required to provide community benefit initiatives, but not all nonprofit hospitals see it as an opportunity. Often, community benefit programs can be an afterthought — an obligation that must be fulfilled to maintain tax-exempt status — but it should be viewed as much more than that.
There are a few primary reasons community benefit programs should be seen as an privilege with exciting possibilities rather than another box to check:
–Community engagement and benefit programs are the only way to create lasting wellness in the population a hospital or health system serves. The “new language” of healthcare represents a shift toward patient-centered and outcome-based care, which means the focus is becoming prevention and overall wellness rather than “sick care.” As a hospital or health system, the ultimate goal is to make a population well, so this shift is a positive one, and venturing outside the walls of the hospital into the community is the way to reach those wellness goals. Looking at root causes of chronic health problems the community experiences collectively and individually — like a lack of access to healthy food, mental health issues and addiction — and then addressing them holistically is the only way to be truly preventative on a large scale. By utilizing community benefit programs, hospitals can actually make a difference in the populations they serve and move toward greater wellness.
–Community benefit programs are a tangible a way to do hands-on, change-making ministry. By entering into the community, understanding the challenges people face when trying to increase their quality of life and providing paths to overcome those challenges, we have the opportunity to show them Christ’s love in a way that really makes a difference in people’s day-to-day lives. Meeting people where they are rather than waiting until they come to us as they walk through the hospital doors not only builds relationships and affects change, but it shows that we care about patients’ whole lives. We care that they achieve and experience wellness in all areas of their life, not just when they’re physically ill and pay hospital bills. Community benefit programs are an opportunity to put our missions into action.
–It’s a chance to be creative. Community benefit programs provide a unique opportunity to be creative and problem-solve. Not only does being creative make the process more fun, but it also helps make real change happen. Asking questions, investigating to determine what problems exist and brainstorming ways to solve them are great outlets for creativity — for leadership as well as staff. In addition, community initiatives — especially when they benefit kids in the community — can be fun!
There are so many ways for hospitals and health systems to truly help increase overall wellness in the community, but it only happens if they commit to getting involved. Being intentional, thoughtful and creative with community benefit initiatives are a great way to shift the tide away from “sick care” and toward wellness.