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A Story to Tell

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The marketing department has a vital role to play in demonstrating community benefit for the IRS' revised Form 990H.

Finance might be the best department to compile and report numbers. But marketing is the department best equipped to tell your organization's story. You'll need both skill sets to fill out the newly revised IRS Form 990H. In addition to reporting financial data about community benefit activities to the IRS, tax-exempt hospitals will soon be required to write an essay on what they do to improve public health and provide charity care.

Another reason to get your marketing team working on this one: The form will be open to public scrutiny. Even for-profit hospitals should pay attention. Other hospitals in the market are going to be praised or pilloried in the press—it's just a matter of time before they come to ask what you've done for the community lately, too.

"The guts of your hospital will be displayed for the whole world to see," says Keith Hearle, president, Verité Healthcare Consulting in Alexandria, VA.

Tax-exempt hospitals are required to file the full IRS 990 Schedule H for fiscal year 2009. But hospitals should start collecting the data today, say many experts and organizations—including the American Hospital Association. "Actually, yesterday would be preferable," says Patsy Matheny, a Sugar Grove, OH-based community benefit consultant. "Since community benefit activities happen throughout the organization, it takes quite a bit of time to ferret out all the activities."

Ron Schultz, a senior advisor at the IRS, says a dry run is a good strategy. "It makes good sense to me for organizations to practice on this and work within the transition period."

Matheny says a team from the community benefit, finance, and marketing departments should lead the charge. "Marketing staff are integral to leading this internal education as well as reporting out the final community benefit data to both internal and external audiences," she says.

How much work is involved? "It depends," says Hearle. "There are a number of organizations … that have been working up community benefit information for years and years. So for them it might take a good few days. For people that have never pulled together community benefit reporting information, it will take quite a bit more effort."

Set a foundation
Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, FL, has been building its community benefits program for more than a decade, researching the community and asking what residents needed. "We said, ‘We're going to work on your agenda, not our agenda,'" says Steve Sampier, director of community services. Residents wanted to prevent crime, provide activities for youth and seniors, and fix sidewalks and street lights. Memorial launched projects in nine neighborhoods. Many were small, grassroots affairs, and all were powered by volunteers—including more than 2,000 Memorial employees and one paid coordinator per project. Over the years, Memorial built trust within the community. That helped when it came time to start working on the kinds of benefits that hospitals will report on the 990H form.

About three years ago, the system launched the Health Intervention with Targeted Services (HITS), a multiphase program to reach the uninsured. It included high-visibility activities such as monthly health fairs and mobile health centers. Eligibility experts visited residents in their homes to help them fill out applications for Medicare and Memorial's own program for the uninsured and underinsured. The system also targeted frequent ER patients with chronic diseases.

But even organizations that have not made building community trust a recent priority can still get started with small beginning steps to report to the IRS and the community, Sampier and others say. "Everyone always likes to hear stories that describe the positive impact in improving the health status of the community," Matheny says.

Gienna Shaw

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