Leading a healthy life is about much more than being able to see a doctor or get into a hospital. It is also about access to fresh foods, and places to go to exercise like parks. That is a major struggle for people in many communities in the San Joaquin Valley. A new report from the advocacy organization Building Health Communities and the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State says hospitals should be doing more to improve ‘neighborhood health’. Valley Public Radio’s Jeffrey Hess spoke with the report’s author Tania Pacheco-Werner about how a healthy neighborhood can actually help keep people out of the hospital, and why its incumbent that hospitals to do more to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged communities.
Why should hospitals be doing to be more involved in community health?
As a way to continue to enjoy the favored tax status as ‘not for profit’, there are these opportunities for care that is culturally responsive within hospital walls. That attends to people’s language barriers. But then also what they can have access to once they are told to access preventive services or eat better or exercise more? Outside of the hospital walls, there is this opportunity to invest in what we call the built environment. Which is the idea of ‘when I walk out of my house what do I see? What is around me? What air am I breathing? And what am I seeing as opportunities for me to be healthy?’.
Why is this the responsibility of hospitals?
When I talk to physicians, no physician wants to set up a patient to fail. What this report does is it really highlights some unique places where doctors can have this conversation of ‘I want to exercise better. And I know that the program next door at Gaston Middle School at six o’clock is just for 60 plus year olds like you to get some exercise in. So I hope you can go there’. To have that really direct understanding of what is actually available for people to achieve these health goals.
What are the actual steps do you think hospitals should be taking?
I think, one, there is a unique opportunity to partner with not-for-profit organizations. But also FQHCs, Federal Qualified Health Centers, which are trying to do some of this innovative work. To see if there is limited funding, because everything is about funds, (hospitals) can augment this program that is going on in central Fresno that Clinica Sierra Vista has. And this model, I can make 20 of these if all of our hospitals join together and have this one common investment. So, the recommendation is really to listen to residents. Listen to the community organizations. And leverage what is already there. The opportunities like with the parks master plan in the City of Fresno. Like with the Downtown Neighborhood Partnership. All of these City of Fresno plans that are coming up, there is an opportunity for that not-for-profit hospital partnership with cities and not-for-profit organizations to really work together to solve this issue of inequality of the built space in South Fresno.
What do hospitals get out of spending their money in places that aren’t directly medical care?
It is that nexus between looking at investments, one: as a requirement of this not-for-profit status. But two: as an opportunity to make care that doesn’t rely on reimbursement rates. Think about health care as having places for people to learn how to cook and provide physical activity. It is really being able to look at health care as beyond what happens inside the walls of the hospital.