The Catholic Health Association (CHA) has been the national leader in community benefit policies for decades. Many of its members have been both strong supporters of HCWH since our founding, and leading practitioners of community health stewardship for generations. Health Care Without Harm and CHA have collaborated to assist the US Internal Revenue Service in clarifying and improving the instructions under which tax-exempt health care organizations report their social and environmental community benefit and community building activities.
- IRS January 2012 updated instructions for Form 990 Schedule H
- Healing Communities and the Environment: Opportunities for Community Benefit Programs
As the health care sector expands the concept of “first, do no harm” in ways that lead to dramatic reductions in health care facilities’ inadvertent negative environmental health impacts, it has also responded to environmental health threats in surrounding communities. There are a growing number of hospital-supported programs to remove lead in community housing, take back unused pharmaceuticals, eliminate healthy food deserts in cities, and much more.
When health care reduces or eliminates the use of persistent, bio-accumulative toxicants, carcinogens or other high hazard chemicals, we are practicing primary prevention, helping to reduce the risk of cancer, developmental disabilities and other chronic illnesses in our communities, and those up and down stream in the supply and disposal chains.
When we reduce use of mined metals, minerals and fuels, and increase the proportion of sustainable, renewable energy and materials, we benefit communities by practicing primary prevention, helping create green and healthy jobs, and mitigating the adverse health effects of climate change. The latter include increased respiratory disease, injury from severe weather events, strengthened infectious disease vectors, psychological trauma, clean water shortages, and more.
When we shift to healthy, sustainably grown food, we help address the growing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses related to poor nutrition. We are also supporting local economies and farming practices that reduce harm to people and the environment.
Because low income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and inequity, activities directed at improving environmental health especially benefit such vulnerable populations. Health programs that simultaneously strengthen access to healthy shelter, food, mobility, participation in decision making, and connection to community reduce the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, some kinds of cancer, and many other outcomes.