Resilient Communities

Health Care Without Harm is leading the healthcare sector in moving beyond doing “less harm”—reducing negative impacts from the design and operation of health care—to a future where the sector “heals” or restores ecological, economic and social capital within communities.

As anchor institutions, hospitals are embracing a commitment to apply their social and economic influence and intellectual resources to better the long-term public and environmental health of their communities. They are rooted in place, hold significant investments in real estate and social capital, and are among the largest employers 
in their communities.

Due to their significant purchasing power
 and trusted role as authorities on health and wellness, hospitals have an important opportunity to not only increase access to healthier, more sustainably produced food for patients, staff
 and the community, but to transform the food system toward greater health and sustainability through local sourcing of goods and services and strategic investments.

An Emerging Opportunity for Resilient Communities

A recent IRS ruling, stating that nonprofit hospitals may consider as community benefits, “the need to prevent illness, to ensure adequate nutrition, or to address social, behavioral, and environmental factors that influence health in the community,” paves the way for the health sector to step up 
its investments in a wide spectrum of nutrition-related programming from acute food insecurity interventions to long-term efforts in building vibrant regional food systems by supporting local growers and economies.

Additionally, in 2014 the Affordable Care Act (ACA) instituted changes requiring nonprofit hospitals to conduct community health needs assessments of the “community” they serve every three years, and develop an implementation plan to address these challenges.

To help hospitals transform their campuses to support upstream prevention through healthy food systems, we provide guidance and support to:

  • Provide healthy food access to their employees, patients and communities through farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs and fruit and vegetable prescription programs.
  • Educate their eaters about how food choices and dietary patterns impact our health and protect our natural resources and climate.
  • Utilize their food purchasing decisions to support regional food economies.

Our 2015 report looked at the ways in which Massachusetts-based facilities are using their community benefit resources to engage in development of healthier community food environments and a sustainable regional food system.

The Healthy Food in Health Care Program has begun to investigate the ways in which hospitals are utilizing their community benefit programs to identify and support interventions for diet-related health conditions in their communities; and opportunities for expanding this role. We are currently building on this effort and conducting a national study with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to look at both current trends in Community Benefits programs and interventions that show promise for future investing.

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