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Why Health Systems Should Commit to Environmental, Social, Governance Goals

Analysis  |  By Steven Porter  
   December 17, 2019

The success of your healthcare organization is linked to the success of the communities in which it operates.

Editor's note: This article is based on a roundtable discussion report sponsored by Bank of America. The full report, A Healthcare-Specific Framework for ESG Principles, is available online as a free download.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria have been used for years to assess a company's performance beyond the black and white lines of a profit-and-loss statement, challenging executives to measure the value their businesses create in the context of more fundamental ethical values.

For healthcare organizations, an ESG framework calls for sustainable energy and waste management systems, prods investment in community health, and demands that leaders embrace diversity and inclusion as essential duties.

These and other initiatives recognize the fact that running a good healthcare business requires a sense of communal responsibility.

"The prosperity of our organizations is inextricably linked to the communities that we serve and the challenges that they face," said Bank of America Executive Vice President Lynn Wiatrowski, during a recent HealthLeaders executive roundtable discussion.

"This is true for healthcare and banking," Wiatrowski said. "The health of the people in our communities has a direct correlation to our ability to thrive, and there are multiple factors to consider."

During the roundtable, Wiatrowski and four senior healthcare leaders with hands-on experience in ESG-related projects discussed ways hospitals and health systems can invest strategically, boldly, and wisely in response to specific needs.

Sam Ross, MD, chief community health officer for Bon Secours Mercy Health in Baltimore, said healthcare leaders often think they have the right answers before they have finished asking the right questions about their ESG priorities.

"Health systems think we have this list of what we should prioritize, what should matter, then we actually get into true community engagement—and if we're truly committed to that practice, then we're asking what matters to you, the community," Ross said. "That's where we start to have to decide what we're going to invest in, and how we're going to address the social determinants and social influencers of health outcomes."

"The reason we at Bon Secours got into housing 20-plus years ago was because the community said the No. 1 concern they had around health was rats and trash," Ross added. "Well, what was the source of rats and trash? The source was all the vacant boarded-up housing because Baltimore used to be a city of a million people but is now a city of about 625,000 people. All that blight is there because people use vacant homes as dumps, drug havens, and stuff like that. The housing intervention was that response to what the community said was the highest priority."

The other three panelists were Rashard Johnson, president of two Advocate Aurora Health hospitals in the Chicago area; Kendra N. Smith, director of social determinants of heath for ProMedica in Toledo, Ohio; and Donald R. Lurye, MD, the CEO of the physician group Elmhurst Clinic LLC.

Download the Full Report: A Healthcare-Specific Framework for ESG Principles

“The health of the people in our communities has a direct correlation to our ability to thrive.”

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: Sam Ross, MD, chief community health officer for Bon Secours Mercy Health in Baltimore, participates in an executive roundtable discussion on ESG principles in Chicago. (HealthLeaders/Dana Thomas)


You can't fully know what the community needs without asking its stakeholders for input.

Healthcare leaders with hands-on ESG experience offer insights informed by their successes.

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