Is your hospital or health system promoting a culture of health in the communities it serves?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation characterizes a culture of health as one in which getting and staying healthy is a fundamental and guiding social value. It is a culture in which all people — whatever their ethnic, geographic, racial or socioeconomic circumstance happens to be — live longer, healthier lives; where promoting health is as important as treating illness; in which high-quality health care is available to everyone — where, when and how they need it; and where the health of all children is a matter of fact and not chance.

RWJF and the American Hospital Association’s Health Research & Educational Trust studied the approaches organizations are using to build such cultures within their communities. HRET reviewed 300 community health needs assessments, assessed a broad base of literature, evaluated AHA and HRET resources, and conducted interviews with hospital leaders. The resultant report, “Hospital-based Strategies for Creating a Culture of Health,” provides tactics hospital leaders and trustees can use to improve community health and offers a model of the hospital’s role in building a culture of health. The free report can be downloaded at www.hpoe.org/resources/hpoehretaha-guides/1687.

The extent to which organizations engage in creating a culture of health varies. The report identifies four potential roles hospitals can play — specialist, promoter, convener or anchor — and outlines factors to consider as they determine their role. Hospitals may play one of these roles for all their culture of health initiatives, or their role may vary based on the intervention or community need. It is important that the role aligns with the organization’s mission, strategy and available resources and has leaders’ full support.

The AHA’s Community Connections initiative recently released the 10th edition of “Community Connections: Ideas & Innovations for Hospital Leaders,” which features more than 100 case examples that demonstrate the ways hospitals are helping their communities. A copy was mailed to hospital CEOs in January but it is also free to download at www.ahacommunityconnections.org.

I encourage you to take a look at this resource for ideas and inspiration. Programs fall into four categories: social and basic needs, health promotion, access and coverage, and quality of life. They range from small projects to multistakeholder initiatives. The common thread is that they are helping to improve health in their communities. No one hospital can be expected to do it all, or to do it alone.

Fred Gattas Jr. (fpgattas@gmail.com), is COG chair and a trustee of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.