Strengthening Hospital-CDC Partnerships – A new focus of MACDC

Massachusetts hospitals devote millions of dollars annually to public health programs that serve their surrounding communities. As hospitals shift the focus of their public health programs towards upstream issues such as housing, education, and employment, it is important that they partner with organizations that are engaged in these areas, such as CDCs.

One of my roles as the Program Director for Health Equity at MACDC is to facilitate relationships between CDCs and their local hospitals. I view supporting these partnerships as building upon my previous role in which I worked to strengthen the state guidelines that direct many of these investments. The updated state guidelines provide the tools for hospitals to increase the transparency by which these investments are made and to increase community involvement in program planning and implementation.

Hospitals, as the institutions that ultimately control the focus of these investments, must commit to engaging community partners. While hospitals may have additional tools and incentives for engaging their community partners, many community organizations continue to find the procurement of hospital funding to be an opaque process. For a CDC, securing a seat at the table in which these investments are discussed is not an easy task. However, there are muscles that potential community partners can build in order to achieve successful partnerships with their local hospitals.

One way in which community organizations can learn more about the nuances involved in hospital investments is through trainings offered by the Mel King Institute for Community Building. Last March, the Mel King Institute held a training in which participants had a chance to learn about different types of hospital investments. For example, participants discussed the distinction between Community Benefits investments – which are annually budgeted for – and Community Health Improvement investments – which are episodically tied to capital expenditures.  Becoming well-versed in these different types of investments, is the first step toward meaningful conversations between CDCs and potential hospital partners.

This coming year, in partnership with the Mel King Institute, I will be introducing several trainings in which we will discuss the challenges associated with developing partnerships and continue to develop the language and the tools needed to initiate and deepen these crucial partnerships between CDCs and their local hospitals. The following are examples of topics that we’ll discuss in upcoming Mel King Institute Health Equity trainings:

Establishing a common language to talk about health equity
 CDCs must deepen their understanding of the pathways by which various social determinants of health (e.g., housing, employment, and education) contribute to health disparities. By establishing a robust vocabulary in which to have meaningful conversations with institutional partners CDCs will be better positioned to advocate for hospital investment in their work.

Deepening understanding of hospital funding

It is important to understand how community health programs fit into the complex hospital financing equation in order to better understand the role of community organizations in this process. Better understanding hospital financing is increasingly important as the system changes, such as the trend toward shifting from the pay-for-service model to Accountable Care Organizations.

The importance of long-term partnership building

 It is not surprising that small- and medium-sized community organizations become interested in partnering with hospitals when they hear of potential funding opportunities. Partnerships, however, rarely originate from a grant opportunity. Organizational relationships must be cultivated long before an opportunity becomes available. It is for this reason that CDCs must cultivate relationships with hospitals independent of a specific funding opportunity.

Keeping track of individual investment opportunities

CDCs must devote time and resources to keeping track of opportunities. This can mean there is a lot to keep track of: in many areas of the state, several hospitals serve the same region and the timeline for hospital investments vary by hospital and by type of investment. CDCs must have a mechanism for learning about funding opportunities as they become available.

What are questions that you have about cultivating relationships with your local hospitals? What challenges have you encountered? What would you like to learn about in this area?