You don’t have to take a deep dive into today’s health care headlines to notice a trend. From policymakers and payers to the media, the nation seems to be turning an increasingly skeptical eye on the once “beloved” not-for-profit hospital.
Sure, the warning signs have been there for years as regulators, unions and public officials questioned the value of nonprofits’ tax exemptions. However, the debate over rising health care costs is taking the dialogue to new levels, making it clear a new era of transparency isn’t just coming – it’s here.
From sweeping new regulations in Georgia that require nonprofit hospitals to make extensive financial disclosures to the increasing pressure Chicago not-for-profits are facing to provide more charity care, the demand for accountability is growing and hospital leaders must be ready to prove their institution’s worth.
Treat community benefit like a service line.
There’s no doubt not-for-profit hospitals play an invaluable role in the communities they serve. Whether providing charity care, investing in research and education, or addressing community needs such as food insecurity or housing, each has a powerful story to tell.
But what may have worked in the past won’t be enough in this new era. Health fairs and community benefit reports alone can’t erase the image of the 800-pound gorilla some detractors are keen to paint. It’s time to treat community benefit like a service line – weaving together a powerful narrative and sharing it in a purposeful and sustained way.
Mount a campaign and share it on social media platforms and in presentations to community groups. Get creative and weave key messages into automatic appointment notifications or print them on the Rx bags in your pharmacy.
Share your story near and far.
And, like any good campaign, it has to start at home. Now more than ever, hospitals must make it a priority to educate their employees, physicians and board members and ask them to help carry the message. Don’t just talk about community benefit, hardwire it by sharing stories and facts at a consistent cadence.
That approach should extend to external stakeholders – ranging from donors and elected officials to business leaders and community advocates. And that doesn’t just mean attending that Rotary meeting or chairing the Chamber committee. Identify the stakeholders who matter most – both supporters and detractors – invite them into your hospital and begin to tell your story.
Follow those efforts with a steady drumbeat of positive news. From sharing your financial assistance policy to highlighting your ride-sharing program or cancer center expansion, people need to hear and see the many ways your hospital is living out its mission. And don’t assume that because you’ve said it once, people will remember. Repetition is key in today’s fragmented world.
Know how you compare.
Finally, don’t be caught on your heels when the spotlight turns on you. Now is the time to take stock of how your hospital stacks up to its peers in the way of executive compensation, financial assistance and community benefit spending as a percent of expenses. Resources like the Community Benefit Insight tool can help assess performance and highlight any deficiencies – real or perceived – you need to be prepared to address.
Most importantly, hospitals should act now. Both the expectation of transparency and the demand for value are real – and they’re not going away. Nonprofits can’t assume community goodwill and past deeds will carry them through this new era. It’s a brave new world out there with far too much at stake.
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