Investing in Health

ON September 14, 2021

Good jobs. 

Safe homes and communities. 

Quality schools. 

Fresh food. 

Close friends and family. 

Excellent medical care. 

With the COVID-19 Delta variant surging, my mind is once again turned to health: what does it mean to be healthy, to live in a healthy community, to share a healthy lifestyle? Imagine how everyone can enjoy abundant health in their own lives, families and communities.  

When we think about health we tend to think of hospitals, doctors’ offices, medicine, and medical equipment. Yet health means so much more and requires access to a place to live, good food to eat, quality jobs and a safe community. People in health care refer to these factors that occur outside a medical setting the “Social Determinants of Health”.  

The six Social Determinants of Health are really quite obvious; things our grandparents knew intuitively. 

  1. Economic Stability: jobs and money to help people meet their health needs 
  1. Neighborhood and Physical Environment: homes and neighborhoods that promote health and safety 
  1. Education: full access to educational opportunities from pre-school to vocational training and higher education 
  1. Food: access to healthy nutritious options 
  1. Community and Social Context: social and community support that ends discrimination, stress, builds social integration 
  1. Health Care System: Full access to quality health care with cost coverage and provider availability 

Source: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation 

Makes sense, right? But what’s a hospital, doctor, or health system to do? They are focused on number six: providing access to high quality care. They have to provide for unpaid care, too. There are limited financial resources and giving is focused on the medical setting.  

But they are large institutions requiring significant financial management operations. What about activating their balance sheet? Hospitals, some clinics, and health systems maintain investments to support their operations. What if they invested a portion of their assets in these Social Determinants of Health? 

There are investable opportunities in almost every Social Determinant of Health: numbers 1-4 are the most straightforward.  

For example, a hospital can invest in an affordable housing project in their region. They could make a loan to a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that lends and provides advice to small businesses in under-resourced neighborhoods. They could fund healthy food options in their neighborhood or help build a new school. When the investments pay off, the hospital can recycle the money back into other projects that advance the Social Determinants of Health. What if they used a local community accessible bank for all or part of the normal banking business?  

Imagine if every hospital in the country went beyond their community giving programs and employed more of their own investable assets to address the Social Determinants of Health. Do good and do well: yes, it can be done. 

I tell my kids that good health rests on a three-leg stool of actions: move, eat, sleep. My advice stands but doing those things requires a good job, someplace safe to live, healthy food to buy nearby, education to live a productive and fulfilling life, and positive social connections. Many children lack access to these essentials. The more we are all aware of ways to address gaps in those required attributes the better our communities will be.  

Forward thinking health care organizations are already working on it. 

Tweet me your thoughts @susan_hammel. 

Susan Hammel Bio:  As a philosophy major who went to Wall Street, Susan Hammel translates between passionate social changemakers and expert accountants.  In her role as President and Founder of Cogent Consulting Inc., Susan serves as MCF Executive in Residence for impact investing and led the charge to map the Twin Cities impact investing ecosystem. As a native Minnesotan, Susan is dedicated to the entire community and brings professional experience from New York, Washington DC and Chicago to the region.   

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What I'm doing now

The latest science says we are living through an “endemic” not a pandemic, anymore (take a listen to Science Friday’s 9/17 podcast). Rather than finding this news thoroughly depressing, I’m doing my best to embrace it. I’ve never thought there would be some kind of magic getting “back” to normal: only “Build Forward Better” as we said in our June, 2021 impact investing conference. So, let’s share what we’ve learned over the last 18 months. I’ve learned that people really do want to take action and explore new ways of addressing society’s ills such as climate change and racial injustice. What did you learn? I’d love to hear. Tweet me @susan_hammel or email or leave a comment below.