Building Healthy Communities: Integrating Healthcare Programs to Address Environmental and Social Sustainability  

Healthcare organizations, especially Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) have a unique role in promoting community well-being. FQHCs were founded as part of the civil rights movement, and their missions focus around creating healthy communities across all demographics, and especially for underserved populations.  

But every organization in the healthcare space has an impact on their community. Beyond providing medical care, they can impact environmental sustainability and social responsibility. Integrating these areas into your healthcare programs not only benefits the community but also strengthens your organization’s mission and values. 

The Intersection of Healthcare and Environmental Sustainability  

Healthcare facilities provide invaluable services to their communities, but they also generate substantial waste and consume significant energy. By becoming more aware of the environmental impact your health center is creating, you can focus on improving your environmental sustainability. Here are a few ideas to help reduce your environmental footprint: 

  • Implement Green Practices: Adopt energy-efficient technologies, reduce waste, and encourage recycling. This may sound like a huge change, but simple steps like using LED lighting, installing energy-efficient HVAC systems when it’s time for an update, and implementing internal recycling programs can make a big difference. Start small and open up the conversation to your team – ask them what environmental issues matter the most to them and what ideas they have to make a difference. You may find key team members that are willing to take the lead in implementing some of these green practices internally. 
  • Sustainable Procurement: Source supplies from environmentally responsible vendors. Choose products with minimal packaging, reusable options, and opt for ones made from sustainable materials. 
  • Green Building Design: This isn’t an option for every healthcare organization, but if you’re running a capital campaign to construct a new facility, consider including green initiatives into your funding and requests. Whether constructing new facilities or renovating existing ones, opt for green building standards. LEED certification, for example, ensures that buildings are environmentally friendly and resource efficient. Even if you’re not doing a complete rebuild or remodel, consider environmentally friendly options as you do regular repairs and updates. Things like replacing old windows with recycled glass and incorporating low water use fixtures are great ways to make an impact! 

Promoting Social Responsibility at your Health Center 

FQHCs are founded on the idea of addressing inequities in healthcare, and all healthcare organizations are dedicated to improving health outcomes for their patients, regardless of demographic and socioeconomic status. Addressing social determinants of health with your programs and partnerships can increase your reach beyond the doors of your healthcare organization and into the daily life of your patients. 

  • Community Outreach Programs: Develop programs that target underserved populations. Mobile clinics, health fairs, and educational workshops can bring healthcare services to those who need them most. Looking into adding a mobile unit to your healthcare organization? Check out our webinar on Mobile Unit Billing for best practices. 
  • Partnerships with Local Organizations: Create opportunities to collaborate with schools, non-profits, and local businesses in your community. These partnerships can address issues like food insecurity, housing, and education, which are critical to overall health. They can also connect your organization with community leaders that understand the programs and services that will create the most impact. 
  • Employee Volunteerism: Encourage staff to volunteer in the community. This not only benefits the community but also boosts employee morale and engagement and fosters teamwork. Build regular volunteer days into your annual calendar, and ask your employees what causes they would most like to get involved in. 

Building Community Beyond Health Outcomes 

Healthcare organizations can take an active role in shaping their communities by supporting initiatives that promote sustainable development and social equity. The primary focus of your organization is the health of your community and your programs and services, but finding ways to support holistic health beyond your inpatient services and specialties can result in long-term positive outcomes for the neighborhoods you serve. 

  • Support Local Agriculture: Partner with local farms to provide fresh, healthy food options for patients and staff. This can be in break rooms, lobby snacks, or even a food pantry if that fits into your mission. Providing local food supports the local economy and promotes healthier eating habits. 
  • Invest in Public Health Infrastructure: Advocate for and invest in community infrastructure, such as parks, bike lanes, and public transportation. These investments promote physical activity and reduce pollution. The goal is not to distract you and your team from their main mission, but instead to look for causes you can openly advocate for in-person or on social media. Finding a cause you can rally behind shows your patients that you are invested in your community’s wellbeing. 
  • Education and Advocacy: Educate the community about the importance of social responsibility. Host events, create educational materials, and use your platform to advocate for policies that promote a healthy environment, healthcare accessibility and social equity. 

Healthcare organizations have a profound responsibility to their communities. By integrating environmental sustainability and social responsibility into their healthcare programs, they can build healthier, more resilient communities. Exploring ways that these initiatives fit into your mission builds connection with your community and helps you and your team address health outcomes from the big picture, which moves your mission forward and creates a healthier future for the people you serve.