The Bigger Picture: Seeing Beyond the Bottom Line for Business

Curt Nonomaque, for HealthLeaders Media, April 28, 2008

Today's highly competitive healthcare marketplace demands much more than quality, profitability, and excellent customer service from its participants. Healthcare companies are increasingly expected to demonstrate strong commitments to good governance, financial transparency, community development, and environmental stewardship.

Our progress as an industry in meeting these new expectations has been gradual but uneven, with some institutions waiting to see if the new “corporate citizenship” trend would be a passing one.

Here's a news flash: This is not a trend. It's a business imperative, and it is here to stay. And with a little effort, the healthcare services sector can become a model for the broader business community. Through our practices, we will show that businesses can do well by doing good.

As you may know, VHA is a cooperative owned by nonprofit healthcare providers. So our earliest examples of corporate citizenship came from our owners, who have always understood the power of community involvement, the creativity that accompanies diversity, and the accountability that flows from greater transparency. Inspired by the examples set forth by our members, VHA's corporate citizenship efforts initially focused on our principles and our people. Now, we are explicitly adopting a third focus: our planet. We need to embrace the concept of sustainability and integrate it explicitly into our work and our concept of corporate citizenship; and our industry must do so as well.

Some folks have asked me why VHA cares about corporate citizenship, and how it makes a difference to our company and our members. Let me share one small example from our experience that illustrates the power of doing the right thing.

In 2002, we made the decision to invest money previously budgeted for an annual company holiday party to create an annual event that directly engages our employees with their communities. We call this annual event Community Day, and each year on that day, VHA employees across the country volunteer for local charities. It has become a much-anticipated and much-beloved tradition, which contributes more than 10,000 volunteer hours and nearly $100,000 to 80 local charities each year.

The success of Community Day goes beyond the donations of time and money. It has fostered strong and invaluable relationships with local community-based organizations across the country. It has also showed our employees that we share their commitment to community involvement. But most importantly, it has helped reinforce the way our employees think about the impact of their work on their communities and our world. It shows that our employees are a stewardship-minded workforce and find meaning in their work. And that's exactly what a company needs to be dynamic, creative, and successful.

For that reason, we are continuing to expand our corporate citizenship work. Just this week, for example, VHA will release its first annual Corporate Citizenship & Sustainability Scorecard, a report that highlights and rates our efforts on dedication to the workplace, operational transparency, community engagement and sustainability. Complete with performance indicators, it is another step forward in our own promise to well-rounded action toward the prosperity of our business, our associates and our communities.

We are especially focused on making progress in environmental stewardship and sustainability. As you will see, we are working hard to reduce our carbon footprint and to make a smaller impact on our planet. Our own experience proves that it doesn't take an enormous corporate undertaking to make a difference we can see. For example, we replaced all disposable cups, plates and bowls used in our corporate headquarters with post-consumer recycled paper products and exchanged other break room supplies including coffee filters, stirrers and plastic cutlery with biodegradable products. We've established an aggressive recycling program and are encouraging our employees to think eco-consciously both at work and home through national educational programs keying off Earth Day and Change-a-Light Day.

There is no perfect recipe for success or a perfect pathway to good corporate citizenship, and certainly we at VHA have much to learn and achieve. But small steps, steadily taken, will lead to bigger steps—and eventually to an entirely new way of working, for us and for our industry. Our individual and collective commitments to good governance, community involvement, and environmental stewardship will pay off, for our members and customers, our people and our planet.

Curt Nonomaque is president and CEO of VHA Inc. He may be reached at
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