The research outcomes on health in America may surprise some. In the United States, the quality and use of medical care only contribute no more than 20 percent to positive health outcomes. Ultimately, roughly 60 percent of our health status and life expectancy is influenced by non-medical, social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. Education, employment, poverty, housing, social structures, and access to healthy food and transportation influence health status even more than direct medical care.
Faced with these findings, we at Kaiser Permanente wanted to determine how one of the country’s largest and most influential health providers could fulfill its mission to improve the health of our 4.2 million members and the communities we serve by reducing harmful health factors that can’t be addressed within the walls of our care facilities alone.
We realized that to have greater impact on the health of our members and our communities, we needed to unleash the potential of our entire organization, leverage our large workforce, our purchasing power, and our relationships—all of our assets and resources, including our passion and commitment—to make a more effective and sustainable impact on the total health of the people and communities we serve.
With this call to action, in 2013 we launched a community health improvement strategy in Southern California called CULTIVATE. The goal of this strategy is to rethink the way we do business to bring about a greater impact on improving the total health of our communities. We’ll accomplish this by using our assets and resources to focus on reducing harmful determinants of health that can’t be influenced by our traditional medical model.
As an executive of Kaiser Permanente who is responsible for the planning and design of our care delivery system, I had to ask myself: ‘what did that mean for me?’ How could I apply a CULTIVATE lens to the way we identify properties for land acquisition and design buildings and services for our members? How could I maximize shared value for our business, members, and communities?
The first step was to understand and acknowledge that without stronger, broader, and sustainable economies, communities cannot achieve total health on all levels – socially, fiscally, environmentally, and clinically. When we purchased 8 acres of land in Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw on the Marleton Square property (formerly the Santa Barbara Plaza), we held a number of community forums to understand community hopes, expectations and needs. The overwhelming feedback was the desire for jobs and new businesses in the area. With this feedback, we collaborated with our labor partners, general contractor for the new medical office building, and community organizations, such as 2nd Call, to sponsor job fairs and enroll people into programs such as electrician apprenticeships that would allow them to secure work on either Kaiser Permanente’s construction project or others in the surrounding area such as the USC Village project.
We’ve explored opportunities to simultaneously:
- Procure goods and services while promoting local economic development (in 2015, Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California Region alone procured more than $500 million dollars with diverse suppliers);
- Hire locally and support workforce and pipeline development;
- Partner with local community organizations to augment services;
- Co-locate with local businesses to enhance the value to our businesses and the surrounding community.
In May 2015, my department collaborated with our West Los Angeles, Downey, and South Bay medical center leadership teams to develop a delivery system strategy for one of our most vulnerable geographic areas: Service Planning Area 6 (SPA 6) in South Los Angeles. Over the course of 14 months, this SPA 6 Taskforce has completed an assessment of community and health care needs, and we engaged community members and leaders in the planning process.
To take an even bolder step into the realm of economic development, Kaiser Permanente embarked on a demonstration project with the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC). ICIC’s mission is to drive economic prosperity in America’s inner cities through private sector investments to create jobs, income and wealth for local residents. Kaiser Permanente is funding ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program, which is designed to help small businesses accelerate their growth and gain access to capital. This Fall, 100+ local small businesses from communities we serve will participate in the ICCC program to further develop their core competencies in finance, business planning, strategy, human resources, and marketing, and will receive assistance in gaining access to equity and debt financing. We are doing this work because we know that community wealth—through small business development and the creation of jobs with sustainable wages—provides a fertile ground for better health.
I see amazing synergies with the LAEDC and Kaiser Permanente – two organizations focused on developing the capabilities and unleashing the value of our diverse communities. I accepted the leadership role as vice chair of the LAEDC Board of Governors this upcoming year because of my personal and professional commitment to join with organizations that address the creation of economic opportunity in our city – to be part of the tapestry the LAEDC and others have woven over decades that builds and rebuilds local economies throughout Los Angeles County and Southern California. We feel privileged to join others who have expertise in this area. We understand there are many influential and successful people and organizations who have devoted their time, resources, and passion to economic development in our most vulnerable communities. With other like-minded organizations, like the LAEDC, Kaiser Permanente is joining the journey to help build better communities—one business at a time, one job at time, one life at a time. Every job created, every local business that prospers is a vaccination against harmful economic, environmental, and social determinants of health —and provides nutrients that strengthen individual and community total health.
This journey has only begun, and I am proud to say we are off to a great start.