Health care systems across the U.S. are increasingly focused on opportunities to achieve greater health equity. Cultivating meaningful relationships with their surrounding communities and involving community members in program and policy decision-making is integral for health systems to offer equitable care. By prioritizing collaborative relationships with community partners, health systems can better understand community needs and work together to design more responsive approaches to reduce health disparities and drive better health outcomes. Empowering community members in decision-making at the health system level mirrors a fundamental tenet of the person-centered care model, which places the preferences of patients and families at the center of all care decisions.
Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and racial reckoning following George Floydʼs murder are driving health systemsʼ growing interest in advancing health equity. The pandemic underscored the need for culturally responsive strategies in addressing the public health crisis and also pushed the health care workforce to a historic level of burnout. At the same time, the long overdue focus on systemic racism forced many in health care to confront their roles in perpetuating racial health disparities.
Health systems — particularly safety-net systems in communities experiencing significant health disparities — are eager to identify new approaches to achieve health equity, including shifting the organizational culture from one narrowly focused on the bottom line to one that prioritizes the concerns of their local communities. After all, community members include both the patient population and the workforce that make up a health system. Health systems that prioritize community partnership can have a more positive impact in their role as both a health care provider and employer.
This report outlines practical approaches to guide health systems in more meaningfully involving local community members and being more accountable to the communities they serve. (abbreviated author introduction)