NEW IRI/RWJF Report Advances Capital Absorption Work With a Focus on Pioneering Health Institutions

By Erin Shackelford

When hospitals invest everybody wins.“What can communities do to make it easier to attract and deploy capital and leverage other assets to achieve their social goals?”  This question, central to the concept of capital absorption, is addressed in a new report which applies the concept to hospitals and health systems.  Released today, “Improving Community Health by Strengthening Community Investment:  Roles for Hospitals and Health Systems” is co-authored by Robin Hacke (Kresge) and IRI Assistant Director Katie Grace Deane.  With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Hacke and Deane expand their work on capital absorption into the area of hospitals and health systems, examining how these institutions may be able to drive community health improvements by investing in the social determinants of health.

The report focuses on a number of pioneering institutions which have begun to invest in new ways to leverage capital to improve the health of their communities.  Examples include rehabilitating affordable and healthy housing (the Cooper Foundation), decreasing pollution with green technology (Gundersen Lutheran), bringing business back to neglected neighborhoods (Johns Hopkins), and investment in startup technology that brings interactive fitness content to the classroom (Dallas Children’s), among others.  The report focuses on these examples, identifying “financial investments intended to achieve social and environmental benefits in underserved places, where conventional market activity does not fully meet community needs.”

While communities and hospitals face many challenges, from a shifting regulatory landscape to rising economic inequality and the negative health consequences it can bring, this report offers a path forward for addressing social determinants of health.  “By thinking broadly and investing strategically,” the report concludes, “hospitals and health systems can be better partners in solving the most pressing issues in their community”.  We hope the paper offers a frame for these institutions to engage on the topic.