The “S” in ESG: How hospitals are embracing social responsibility

For a limited time, the Lown Index feature in Frontiers of Health Services Management will be available to read online for free. Take a look to see how hospitals like Boston Medical Center are taking on the challenge of social responsibility!

Hospitals are known for providing essential medical services, but they do much more than that. Hospitals are not only healthcare providers but also employers, purchasers, political actors, and part of the physical environment of their neighborhoods. The decisions they make—how they invest in local health initiatives and community organizations, who they welcome into the hospital and onto their board, and how much they pay their workers—have a great impact on the well-being of their community.

The Lown Institute developed the Lown Hospitals Index for Social Responsibility as a way to measure what matters—not just hospital performance on outcomes but on health equity and value as well.

The leading edge of hospital performance

Over the past few years since we first launched the Index, we’ve seen hospitals across the country embracing their role as community partners. Now, we’re happy to see hospitals that are leaders in social responsibility featured in a national journal for healthcare executives.

The journal Frontiers of Health Services Management, an official publication of the American College of Healthcare Executives, is taking on the topic of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) in a three-part series. Their most recent issue showcases hospital initiatives around the “S” in ESG, featuring some of the top hospitals on the Lown Hospitals Index.

“For healthcare organizations, whether the mission statement is either succinct or several paragraphs long, improving the health and well-being of the populations served is their raison d’etre.”

Dr. Carla Sampson, Editor, Frontiers of Health Services management

Why should hospitals focus on the “S” in ESG? As Frontiers Editor Dr. Carla Sampson writes, hospitals have a “moral imperative” to address the social factors that drive health because our country hasn’t invested in the public health infrastructure we need to solve these problems.

Prescribing equity

In the recent Frontiers issue, Boston Medical Center CEO Kate Walsh describes one of the many initiatives that made them one of the top-ranked hospitals for Social Responsibility on the Lown Index. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, BMC leadership recognized that they needed to do more to deliver equitable care. While BMC has long been “prescribing” nutritious food through their Preventive Food Pantry, connecting patients to affordable housing options, and helping patients access free tax help and savings accounts, for the first time, the safety net hospital is “prescribing” changes to health leadership and clinicians to make their care more equitable.

“At BMC, we believe health system leaders must hold themselves accountable, uncover the racism entrenched in societal systems and healthcare policies, and shift efforts from simply filling gaps to eliminating them.” 

Kate Walsh, CEO of Boston Medical Center, Frontiers of Health Services Management

They developed the Health Equity Accelerator, a multidisciplinary project designed to “target the root causes of race-based health disparities, promote and sustain economic mobility, and end health inequities.” The HEA brings together teams of hospital leadership, research experts, clinicians, and health equity experts to conduct primary research (extensive surveys, interviews, focus groups with patients) and identify ways to end racial disparities. The teams are built around five key clinical areas where disparities are largest: pregnancy, infectious diseases, chronic diseases (primarily diabetes and hypertension), behavioral health, and cancer and end-stage renal disease.

In an accompanying essay, Lown Institute leaders put the Lown Index in context of the growing movement around Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues in healthcare. They explain how the Index provides meaningful metrics to improve not just individual hospital performance, but also shine a light on what needs to change in the healthcare system.

“Hospitals that have made commitments to confront racism in their institutions, reduce health disparities in their communities, and invest in programs to improve social drivers of health need to ensure that these sentiments translate into accountable action.”

The Lown Institute, Frontiers of Health Services Management

Read the full article in Frontiers of Health Services Management! The article is available to the public for a limited time.