How Hospitals and Health Systems Can Optimize Community Health Initiatives When Partnering with Others

The intense dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic have ravaged some communities and underscored the impact of health disparities, as well as the important role that social determinants of health (SDOH) play in ensuring each individual can gain access to the quality healthcare they need. 

The good news is that more hospitals and health systems are stepping up to the plate to launch community health initiatives, often in collaboration with public health partners and/or others within their communities. 

While that might sound easy enough, there are many dynamics in play that may complicate the process. 

In early 2020, the American Hospital Association published From Common Ground to Shared Action: Lessons from Health Care Systems and Local Public Health Departments Working Together to Advance Community Health.

Based on real-world examples from “leading partnerships between hospitals, local public health departments and community organizations across the country,” the report “details key learnings, insights and ingredients for what makes a successful cross-sector collaboration…”

The following provides a snapshot of the report. For further details, please access the complete report.  

Develop “a common understanding and shared vision”

This is done by engaging in “level-setting conversations” related to:

  • Understanding the mutual benefit of collaboration. “Having conversations to understand each partner’s perspective, interests, and the resources and capabilities they bring to the table is essential as well as important to acknowledge…” 
  • Establishing clear language and shared definitions. “When adding in other community partners, the use of sector-specific jargon can create barriers to establishing trust as well as to planning and operationalizing the shared agenda.”
  • Agreeing on a target population. “With clear language in mind, partners should come to agreement on the populations to serve.” 
  • Creating a shared vision. “This shared vision is often the thread that carries partnerships from assessment, to joint priority setting, into collective implementation.”

Determine “overall structure and decision-making processes”

Understanding that “a diverse and inclusive range of perspectives and voices is fundamental to partnership success,” this step should include:

  • Roles and responsibilities. “Fostering trust and mutual respect starts with discussing roles and responsibilities of each partner and developing a formal or informal charter or memorandum of understanding (MOU).”
  • Decision-making processes. “In any given consortium, every partner and person with lived experience has varying levels of power in the partnership. To address this imbalance and alleviate some of the associated power dynamics, partners should decide on a decision-making process that allows all voices to be heard in a balanced manner.” 
  • Importance of facilitator/convener. “A facilitator or convener can play an important role in collaborative efforts. They can support neutral facilitation of meetings when decisions need to be made and can help bridge perspectives among partners who have different assumptions about others’ priorities.”

Move Toward Shared Action 

In summary, the “key learnings” in the report ended with a call to action: “Cross-sector collaboration, which may start with assessments in many areas, has considerable potential to unite hospitals, community groups and public health departments around shared, large-scale community priorities that can forge new relationships, better health outcomes and more equitable care.”

If your organization would like to engage more deeply in community health efforts, the AHA provides extensive resources for hospitals and health systems to do so.

These include the AHA’s Community Health Improvement (ACHI) network that “brings together professionals to rise to the challenges and opportunities present in our communities, ”and its Hospital Community Collaborative (HCC), which “provides proven ideas, insights and resources for creating effective, sustainable collaborations between hospitals and community organizations across sectors to accelerate health equity.”

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Published On: February 17, 2022

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