Developing and sustaining hospital-community partnerships are crucial parts of transforming health care and building a "culture of health."

A catalyst event — such as starting a community health needs assessment process, incorporating new policies or payment models, or identifying emerging community health issues — may bring organizations together or revitalize long-standing partnerships. Many hospitals and health systems also are seeking new and nontraditional partners, including grocery stores, food banks and local service agencies, to address a wide range of community needs.

Getting started

As health systems look to realign existing partners and identify new ones to address community health needs, there are some key areas they can concentrate on to make their efforts successful:

Identifying and engaging the team: At some hospitals and health systems, leadership is integrated into the community, with board members or executives participating on community boards, volunteering at community events and acting as facilitators or ambassadors in the community on specific issues. Many hospitals and community organizations have identified a dynamic leader with vision and influence who has been a key success factor for their partnership and community health initiatives.

Developing a shared mission, vision and goals: Partners should develop goals and objectives together. Their mission, vision and goals should focus on clearly defined, high-priority community needs. Goals may change over time, and the partnership can benefit from continuing to monitor community needs and shifting focus as conditions evolve and available resources change.

Defining each partner’s roles and responsibilities: Clear expectations and roles are essential to a successful hospital-community partnership. If each partner is making a meaningful contribution — not just participating in meetings but being truly engaged and driving the efforts forward — initiatives are more likely to have positive outcomes. To avoid duplicating efforts, effective partnerships need to spend time up front identifying the appropriate operational models for their efforts and the roles partners should play in them.

Creating strategies and a governance structure: Hospitals and community organizations may structure their partnerships differently depending on the need being addressed. Before beginning to develop community programs and interventions, partners should adopt a structure that enables efficient functioning based on the project’s mission and goals.

Implementing interventions in the community: Many hospital-community partnerships address four key areas: healthy behaviors, access to care, economic and environmental development, and behavioral health and substance abuse disorders. Partnerships can measure the effectiveness of their interventions through process or outcome measures. Beyond interventions, it is also important to measure the effectiveness of the partnership itself.

In the end, the timeline for developing hospital-community partnerships depends on several factors, including emerging health issues, availability of appropriate partners, ability to build a consensus on mission and goals, and available resources or expertise.

Taking you through it

The American Hospital Association has produced a guide, Creating Effective Hospital-Community Partnerships to Build a Culture of Health, that outlines the process for starting a hospital-community partnership. It describes types of organizational partnerships and partnership structures, includes metrics for assessing community health interventions and evaluating partnership effectiveness, and much more. The guide was developed by the AHA’s Health Research & Educational Trust with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is based on 50 interviews with leaders from hospitals and community organizations. To download the report, visit the Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence website at

Cynthia Hedges Greising ( is a communications specialist, and Katya Seligman ( is a program manager, with the Health Research & Educational Trust.