Scientists generally recognize that there are five determinants of health of a population – they include biology and genetics, individual behavior, social environment, physical environment and health services.1 Although it is impossible to control biology, the other factors of health can be influenced and shaped, by the local communities. Unfortunately for so many, communities can struggle to influence health in positive ways due to lack of affordable housing, access to healthy foods, and other basic needs.
Healthy People 2020 set a goal to help create social and physical environments that promote good health for all. It addresses health care, neighborhoods, economic stability, and education.2 Recently, health systems and hospitals have started to recognize that they have the capacity to join these types of initiatives to influence health in their communities outside of the traditional hospital setting. Their resources, especially financial assets, can be used in an array of ways to create a healthier and more equable local environment.
Dignity Health, a large U.S. health care system, is one of the leaders in this initiative. It is “exploring the roles hospitals and health systems can play in creating local systems that produce jobs, housing, transit, and other resources people need to lead a healthy life”.3 They have invested in various ways, including a $1.2 million loan commitment to help develop affording housing units in San Bernardino.
In fact, Dignity Health is one of six health systems and hospitals that have committed to Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities. It includes hospitals and health systems investing in affordable housing and fostering equitable housing solutions.4
It is through these types of programs that inspire the health system and hospitals to look outside of traditional health care practices as ways to treat patients. Instead, through their investments – whether it be a direct loan into an affordable housing project, an investment in a community development financial institution (CDFI), or another form of impact investing – these health care systems can directly impact their local neighborhoods and promote good health for all.