You know that your hospital is important to your community—much more important than many people understand. That's why you contribute your time, judgment and expertise to its success. You could probably cite a hundred ways that your hospital goes beyond healing to lead the way to better health and a brighter future for your neighbors.

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Your hospital is open every day and night to care for everyone who walks through its doors. It strengthens your community with valuable jobs, critical innovation and an ongoing commitment to flexibility in meeting the evolving needs of the people it serves.

Your hospital is evolving to keep pace with the changing health care environment. It's making strides in quality and safety every single day as it makes the transition to a pay-for-performance system that rewards excellence. It's addressing the fragmentation of the past to bring patients better, more integrated care at a lower cost and to inspire them to become involved in their own health.

You know that lack of health insurance coverage keeps many of your neighbors from getting the right care at the right time in the right setting and ultimately creates even greater costs not only for your hospital, but for their families and the entire community.

But I'm preaching to the choir; you know these things. However, do your neighbors, friends and colleagues fully grasp the extraordinary contributions of your hospital?

All of us—trustees, hospital executives and the American Hospital Association—have tremendous sweat equity in the success of our hospitals and unquestioned dedication to advancing the overall health of communities by leading hospitals forward—and telling that story has never been more important. As our nation comes to grips with the challenges of a worrisome deficit, an aging population and the cost of providing the best health care possible, we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to show lawmakers and the public that hospitals are part of the solution.

Credibility Counts

Trustees are empowered with special authority when it comes to telling the hospital story. You know the issues. You know the impacts. And, chances are, you know the players in your community, too.

But most important of all, your position gives you unrivaled credibility. The national dialogue on how to face the challenges of providing quality health care for an aging population and dealing with the federal budget will be going on for some time to come. So will the need for hospitals to continue to step up efforts to build stronger, healthier communities and move toward a more integrated system of care. You are in an ideal position to put forward the benefits your community enjoys today and can expect tomorrow because of your hospital.

In short, no one can tell the full hospital story as well as you.

The Internal Revenue Service's Schedule H is one vehicle for demonstrating your hospital's value to the community, but it only paints part of the picture. Every community has specific needs, and every hospital devises its own specific actions to meet them. However, no standard form such as Schedule H can be expected to provide a complete look at the role that hospitals play in communities every day.

That is one of the reasons that the AHA recently launched a new initiative called "America's Hospitals: Caring for Patients, Strengthening Communities." (See sidebar.) It features a new fact or story each day, posted at www.aha.org/hospitalstory and on our Twitter feed, to keep up a steady drumbeat of messages to illustrate the importance of hospitals from a variety of angles. Some facts pertain to all hospitals, but we also showcase the efforts of individual hospitals across the country. We encourage hospitals to send us their own stories to include.

Your Story

Make no mistake; this national effort is no substitute for the local and personal impact hospital executives and trustees can have when they create opportunities to tell their own stories to professional colleagues, friends and others, one-on-one or through neighborhood, professional and civic groups.

Your dedication, as exemplified by your service, makes you an ideal ambassador for your hospital. The hospital's public relations staff can provide the facts and figures to support your story. Combine those facts with the credibility you have earned to tell your own story. Help people understand why your hospital is like no other, why that matters, and how it is making a difference every day.

Rich Umbdenstock (rich@aha.org) is president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, Washington, D.C.

America's Hospitals: Caring for Patients, Strengthening Communities