Our healthcare industry must reach people before they need us

The health care industry has come to better understand and appreciate that no matter how advanced clinical care becomes, a person's overall health has far more to do with social factors — what they eat, where they live, what they do for work, and so on.

If our ultimate goal is to help people live healthier and fuller lives, then our reach must extend far beyond our hospital and clinic walls.

As the third-largest nonprofit health system in the country, Advocate Health is committed to being a leader on this front.

In 2022, our community benefit contribution totaled $5.9 billion, up 15% from the year prior. The investment, spanning the six states in which we operate, included free and discounted care for low-income patients.

It also included subsidized health services like behavioral healthcare and immunizations, critical preventive care that aims to help members of our communities live healthier lives and mitigate serious conditions that require more invasive, time-consuming and costly procedures.

We're reaching people before they need us. Partnerships with local organizations and local leaders across our footprint help us better understand the unique needs of our populations. And it’s our job to address them head-on for the good of our communities.

This means developing and bolstering holistic programs and services that address access to nutritious foods and affordable housing.

For example, since 2018, Advocate Health’s Illinois-based system has provided more than 1.3 million pounds of food to about 30,000 families through mobile and hospital-based pantries, food pharmacies and more. Just this month, a news story about this program at Advocate Christ Medical Center quoted a patient who said access to healthy food helps her feel good about herself.

"Eating healthy is very expensive," she said. "I love the program so much I volunteer now."

That’s community partnership in action.

While such investments build on our pledge to advance health equity by addressing unique community needs, at our core we’re still health care providers. We’ll always be there for patients when they need medical interventions.

And improving access to that care also means making sure our services are accessible financially.

As a health system with deep roots in value-based care, we know that access to preventive services and timely interventions can keep chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension at bay, leading to healthier and more productive communities.

In 2022 alone, we provided 100% free care to nearly 140,000 patients and provided 200,000 uninsured and underinsured patients with deeply discounted care. And our financial advocates helped more than 20,000 previously uninsured patients qualify for Medicaid.

But collaboration is key. The entire industry – providers, insurers, drugmakers, pharmacy benefit managers and more – must work together to address rising costs and, ultimately, make health care more affordable for patients.

At Advocate Health, we've made a series of affordability commitments to help drive our policies and procedures around financial assistance and billing. They include raising the income level at which we provide full financial assistance and ensuring that the process of qualifying for aid is clear and simple.

Of course, our industry has a lot more work to do to ensure the availability and sustainability of high-quality health care services and community programs that help people get and stay healthy. We look forward to partnering with community leaders, organizations and other health care stakeholders to better help our shared communities live fully.

Kinneil Coltman is chief community and social impact officer at Charlotte, N.C.-based Advocate Health.

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