The United States lags in health outcomes and health care quality when compared with other countries despite spending roughly double the average amount on health care per person. Research suggests that most of these health care expenditures go toward treating chronic health conditions, most of which can be prevented by adopting positive behaviors and addressing the underlying social and economic conditions that contribute to poor health, such as economic prosperity, nutrition, education, housing, and transportation.
While local governmental public health agencies have long appreciated the role of social determinants of health, some in the business community are more recently appreciating the importance of these factors on the health of their workforces, their ability to attract and retain top talent, and the strength of their community.
Poor community health directly impacts the health of a business’s employees, customers, and supply-chain partners. Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems are estimated to cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.10 Conversely, improved community health can lead to a healthier workforce, a more attractive and vibrant community, and a stronger local economy. Achieving optimum health outcomes has often been discussed in the context of access to health care and individual decision-making. However, today, improving health must go beyond medicine and individual choices. The communities and environments in which people live have an outsized impact on their health. Treating individuals while ignoring the conditions in which they live will fail to achieve lasting improvements in health.
The communities and environments in which people live have an outsized impact on their health. Treating individuals while ignoring the conditions in which they live will fail to achieve lasting improvements in health.
While others have examined cross-sector work between public health and the private sector in more detail, we are primarily interested in local-level partnerships in which the health department and one or more businesses or the local chamber of commerce collaborate to improve community health. This focus on the business sector spans industry, company size, and tax status because all businesses that have the capacity to partner and make investments in their communities have a role to play in improving community health. Due to the collaborative nature of this work, we also include chambers and other business groups when speaking about businesses or the business sector, and indeed many of the case examples herein involve the local chamber or chamber foundation.
This report highlights examples of these types of partnerships and makes the case that the business community and governmental public health agencies have a vested interest in promoting public health together. By recognizing that improved community health and economic development are interconnected, these partnerships promote community development, health, and wealth. Success of one ultimately requires success of the other. Businesses and public health departments must both invest in cross-sector collaborations that involve the other as partners in this movement to advance community health. They can achieve this through bilateral partnerships or through joint leadership in larger, multisector coalitions.
A first step toward collective action and partnerships across sectors is to clearly state the values shared by business and public health leaders:
- Healthy people—including employees, their spouses and partners, children, neighbors, and other community residents who have healthy lifestyles—avoid preventable diseases, limit their spending on health care services, and live long and productive lives.
- Healthy businesses that attract and retain top talent effectively manage health care spending, limit absenteeism and disability, prevent avoidable safety incidents, achieve high worker productivity, and are viewed by employees, customers, shareholders, and community members as socially responsible.
- Healthy communities that are ranked highly on community health indices have fair wages, good schools, low crime rates, affordable housing, solid infrastructure, clean air and water, green spaces, healthy food options, public transportation, accessible health care services, and admirable scores on quality-of-life and happiness scales.
- Healthy local economies that promote new business investment have low unemployment and a skilled workforce, encourage innovation and small business start-ups, and are competitive.
To address the need to establish the value of a true partnership between businesses or chambers of commerce and local governmental public health agencies, and to prompt immediate action, this report aims to:
- Foster a greater understanding of the importance of community health and well-being to the business sector;
- Propose and reinforce governmental public health agencies as a mutually beneficial partner;
- Share perspectives on the opportunities and obstacles for advancing business collaboration with the governmental public health infrastructure, especially at the local level;
- Present a value proposition to promote an understanding of the shared value generated by these partnerships;
- Provide case examples of successful public-private collaborations that are leading to improved community health; and
- Offer specific recommendations on ways to develop effective long-term partnerships between the business community and local governmental public health agencies.