Forging the Link Between Community and Health

By Mary K. Totten and Dan Regan

“While access to health care services and the quality of those services are important, other factors—environmental, genetic, lifestyle choices and socioeconomic—collectively have far greater impact (around 90 percent) in determining the health status of individuals and population groups…to improve the overall health of given communities and populations, excellent communications and cooperation among health delivery organizations, public health agencies, employers, school systems and other key community stakeholders are essential.” (The Leadership Role of Nonprofit Health Systems in Improving Community Health. American Hospital Association. 2017).

The AHA’s 2017 report documents how leading health care organizations and their boards, in collaboration with other community partners, are beginning to expand efforts to address the myriad of social determinants that significantly affect the health of their communities. For Sinai Health System in Chicago, taking an active role to improve the health and quality of life in the neighborhoods it serves is not new work. The system, comprised of Mount Sinai Hospital, Holy Cross Hospital, Sinai Children’s Hospital, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, Sinai Medical Group, Sinai Community Institute and Sinai Urban Health Institute, has long cared for people living in the most underserved communities on Chicago’s west and southwest sides. Many of these residents are disproportionately affected by illness, poverty and other social challenges. Today, Sinai serves 1.5 million people, some 93 percent of whom are insured by Medicare or Medicaid or are uninsured.

For Sinai, serving this population is “mission work” that extends beyond providing medical care. Over the past 20 years, the system and its governing board have increasingly focused outside the hospital to bring to life a core mission commitment to take “an aggressive, hands-on and proactive approach to promoting community health.”

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