Partnerships between hospitals and community stakeholders are essential to improve population health. To understand how hospitals and communities can develop and sustain partnerships, the Health Research & Educational Trust, working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, conducted 50 interviews with hospital and community leaders from 25 diverse communities across the United States. These interviews revealed best practices for identifying community health needs and potential partners, sustaining partnership structures, overcoming challenges and assessing partnerships. PIH Health, based in Whittier, Calif., and Indiana University Hospital, based in Indianapolis, are among the hospitals that exemplify the power of partnerships for building a “culture of health.”

School-based Wellness Collaborative in Los Angeles County

To address the rising rate of childhood obesity, as well as reduced district resources for physical and nutritional education, PIH Health and the Los Nietos School District formed Healthy Los Nietos, a school-based wellness collaborative. HLN has a community advisory board with key stakeholders from a diverse set of community-based organizations and government entities. The HLN collaborative coordinates evidence-informed strategies focused on increasing the number of students who maintain a healthy weight and improving the overall health and wellness of school district staff and families.

The HLN collaborative coordinates student education on health and wellness topics, provides annual student health screenings and immunizations, develops school wellness policy and environmental change strategies, and engages parents and community members. The short-term impact of HLN's initiatives on students, parents and faculty is evaluated; to evaluate long-term impact on students' health, HLN longitudinally tracks students' body mass index and blood pressure data. Sustainability of the partnership, tools and initiatives is key. According to Vanessa Ivie, director for community benefit and community health, “Building an effective collaboration by learning how to communicate with all key partners is critical to achieving great impact together.”

Partnership with Food Bank in Indiana

Indiana University Health formed a partnership with Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana in 2015 and now provides funding for the CARE Mobile Food Pantry, which offers 6,000 meals a week to six neighborhoods affected by high rates of poverty, food insecurity, unemployment and violent crime. The program seeks to reduce crime rates in communities by de-escalating tension caused by hunger. Food is distributed by volunteers and local police and public safety department employees, which also builds goodwill among residents.

Through the mobile pantry, Gleaners Food Bank provided 450,120 pounds of food to six neighborhoods in three months. Ninety-three percent of clients reported being extremely satisfied about their experience, and 79 percent said the program significantly improved their food security. In addition, crime rates have dropped in the target communities. Joyce Hertko, IU Health director of community outreach and engagement, observed, “If we can collaborate with organizations and people in the community who have a similar mission and goal, we're driving toward healthy outcomes. ... We are more likely to move the dial on those health issues than if we're doing it all on our own as an individual hospital or health care system.”

To learn more about these and other hospital-community partnerships, visit the Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence website and download the guide “Creating Effective Hospital-Community Partnerships to Build a Culture of Health.”

Katya Seligman is a program manager and Cynthia Hedges Greising is a communications specialist, both with the Health Research & Educational Trust.