Partnering to improve community health benefits both businesses and local health departments, according to a new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the de Beaumont Foundation. Titled “Good Health Is Good Business,” the report shares a value proposition detailing the potential benefits for each sector.
In describing several partnerships, the report identifies the following characteristics for success:
- motivated and committed leaders;
- equal and complementary participation; and
- joint strategic planning to establish common ground.
The most effective partnerships focus on the underlying social and economic determinants of health, rather than on meeting the individual needs of employees or their families. Addressing needs like stable housing, accessible transportation, and good health on a person-by-person basis is less impactful than policies, systems, and environmental change that address issues for the entire population, according to the report.
The report was released June 28 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The event featured Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the United States, and Diana Farrell, president and CEO of the JPMorgan Chase Institute. View webcast.
Community health and business success are closely related. Companies depend on communities to provide healthy employees, consumers, and business partners, while communities depend on companies to offer jobs, stability, and opportunities to create wealth. The promotion of health facilitates broader economic growth, and a strong economy is invariably good for revenue growth and profitability.
As the report points out, it may seem obvious at first, but every business is in the health business. All corporations have a public health impact in these four areas:
- Consumer Health: How organizations affect the safety, integrity, and healthfulness of the products and services they offer to their customers and end consumers.
- Employee Health: How organizations affect the health of their employees through provision of employer-sponsored health insurance, workplace safety and culture, and wellness programs.
- Community Health: How organizations affect the health of the communities in which they operate and do business.
- Environmental Health: How organizations’ environmental policies (or lack thereof) affect individual and population health.
Poor community health directly impacts the health of a business’s employees, customers, and supply-chain partners. Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems are estimated to cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.
Conversely, improved community health can lead to a healthier workforce, a more attractive and vibrant community, and a stronger local economy.
More Than Employee Wellness
The most common intersection between public health leaders and businesses is workplace health promotion programs. However, these programs benefit only employees while they are on site and usually do not extend into the community, so they don’t directly benefit employees’ family members, friends, neighbors, social networks, schools, playgrounds, restaurants, and other public places that play an integral role in a community’s health.
“Employee wellness programs have long focused on health screenings, smoking cessation, and dietary changes,” said Brian C. Castrucci, DrPH, MA, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation. “But they’ve grown to include stress reduction, yoga, and other holistic approaches to wellness. Employee wellness is its own billion-dollar industry. But employee wellness programs are not sustainable, they aren’t scalable, and they aren’t the solution for health issues that affect entire communities.”
Instead, he said, businesses and local health departments should work together to improve community conditions that affect all residents — including the businesses’ employees, customers, and others.
The report includes recommendations for governmental public health agencies, individual businesses, and chambers of commerce at the local level. Tactical recommendations include:
- Develop a strategic map of local partners.
- Prepare an “ask.”
- Recruit leaders as initiative champions.
- Focus on common problems.
- Measure success and impacts.
Communications recommendations include:
- Use multipronged communications strategies.
- Disseminate existing tools and resources.
Finally, regional, state, and national organizations — such as charitable foundations and government agencies — have a critical role to play in promoting collaborations between the business and public health sectors by:
- Distributing new and compelling case studies.
- Establishing recognition programs.
- Funding demonstration programs.