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Healthy Communities Where Business Thrives

Our first white paper, "Community Health Data: Improving Employer Investment in Overall Employee Health," talked about the challenges employers face when trying to address their employees' health-related needs. As we've known for years, our work is more than simply providing benefits and educating employees on using them. 

We strive to empower and educate employees to foster a community of healthcare consumers that know how to fully interact with the benefits we provide and maximize their use. 

That's because we know that the depth of interaction our employees have with their health resources impacts the overall advancement of employee health and wellbeing. And that's good for business — Healthy employees are happier, more likely to show up for work, more productive at work, more likely to engage in training, and therefore, more capable of delivering on corporate objectives and commitments. 

But even with employer-sponsored benefits and the education, we provide on how to use them; even with our efforts to create healthcare consumers and patient advocates; even with our deep dives into our data and the use of technology to focus, many of the health and benefits-related problems we faced five, 10 or 20 years ago are still with us today. 

When we look at statistics nationally from County Health Rankings or regionally like HPIO's 2021 Ohio Health Value Dashboard, it confirms that despite our efforts, many of our healthcare struggles today are the same as they were in the past. What's interesting is that the more we squint to put that truth in perspective, the more we continue to ignore the giant elephant that has always been in the room. 

Employers will be able to create disruptive change and real impact when they start focusing on those community influencers that determine employee health: The attributes of the health system, the overall community spend on health services, the health outcomes of the community, and those pesky social determinants that we've been talking about for years — this is the 'secret sauce' that employers need to focus on to improve employee health and healthcare spending. 

These localized factors are affecting every member of your plan.

These types of data point that Amazon factors into their equation when evaluating a new site. Information derived from this same data could cause an international headquarters to move from one city to another for healthier, happier talent. These analyses provide intelligence that accurately assesses your employee populations' health and makes it's possible to anticipate future health disparities.

This is valuable because human health and economic health are directly linked — when one starts to sink, it drags the other down. We already know that the health of Americans is not on par with that of populations in other similarly wealthy countries. This 'health disadvantage' extols a cost on employees and their families and businesses and society at large.

For employers, it means we're constantly reacting to increased costs, lower productivity, and diminished competitiveness and rarely get the chance to be proactive. Before we can begin to anticipate what our employees may need in the future, we must start to examine the sources of this health disadvantage now. 

Healthy communities where business thrives have a lot in common:

  • For nearly everyone, basic needs like clean air and water, access to healthy foods, and a safe environment are met. 

  • Residents enjoy meaningful work and possess wealth. 

  • They dwell in safe and humane housing with affordable costs and are close to their jobs, children's schools, and places of recreation.

  • They have reliable transportation and have access to green spaces.

  • They are life-long learners and are given the opportunity for job training both in and outside the workplace, and they feel like they belong and are happy within their community. 

These community conditions directly link with the health of a business. Therefore, improving these conditions will improve both human and economic health. 

Always remember, it's the employer that funds healthcare in America; from the most extensive hospital system to a two-member team that just created a new app, employers hold sway with their buying power to ignite change. Employer investments in healthcare and wellbeing alone can only take us so far, though.

Imagine what an employee population would look like if every person within your community had access to a thriving neighborhood with the attributes individuals and families needed to erase this distinctly American health disadvantage. 

It's time to look at the landscape a little bit differently and start thinking about other opportunities for genuine impact and real change. Perhaps it's time we start talking about the thing that no one wants to talk about — that the health of our employee population is directly related to the health of the community within which it resides.

To improve that community will require partnerships across public, private, and nonprofit sectors. It will further need new business models to align the financial interests of organizations that would benefit from healthier communities. But mainly, it will require the will of organizations that want to affect change to take that first step towards change.

About Health Action Council 
Health Action Council is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) organization representing mid-and large-size employers that enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration. It provides value to its members by facilitating projects that improve the quality and moderate the cost of healthcare purchased by its members for their employees, dependents, and retirees. Health Action Council also collaborates with key stakeholders – health plans, physicians, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry – to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare in the community. For more information, please visit 

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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