Apr 19 2012
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Richard J. Umbdenstock, American Hospital Association: Opportunities for Collaboration Between Health and Health Care

RichardUmbdenstock Richard Umbdenstock, American Hospital Association president and CEO

The intersection of health and health care was an important theme at this year’s Keeneland Conference—during sessions on recent IOM reports, in hallway conversations, in discussions of Public Health Services and Systems Research that explores the most efficient ways to deliver public health services, and, notably, during the keynote address by Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.

In his presentation, Umbdenstock talked about hospitals and public health, "collaborating for communities," and said that as health care providers, hospitals had tended to focus on treating the individual, rather than on prevention for the population. Now, he said, the money is gone and the public cares more about health, meaning it makes less and less sense for either hospitals or public health to be concerned with protecting their turf. “We need to incent health and deglamourize consumption.” Quoting a colleague, Umbdenstock said “what we need to do is create an epidemic of health.”

Umbdenstock spoke frankly when he told the attendees, “hospitals want to improve the lives of their patients, and not just their health care. Rather than wait for an [hospital] admission that won’t be paid, they’d rather get upstream on primary care.”

“Public health departments must be funded and supported so that wellness and prevention touches all and there are enough resources to do that,” said Umbdenstock. “And this is where research can play a big part—collaborative health research. We need to know the most effective collaborative models and the most effective ways to advocate for greater personal and community responsibility.”

NewPublicHealth caught up with Richard Umbdenstock following his talk.

NewPublicHealth: What are you hearing from hospitals about the new IRS community benefit requirement?

Richard Umbdenstock: Some hospitals have had similar responsibilities at the state level and many have had to put out accountability reports to their communities, so for many it’s not a new concept. In addition, hospitals have long been under a microscope and they also understand that community benefit is a wonderful community education tool. If they can tell it in a clear and consistent fashion, there’s a real opportunity for the public to better understand what hospitals and public health departments do.

NPH: Do hospitals and public health understand the critical community roles each one plays?

Richard Umbdenstock: I don’t think there’s any question what public health departments do after you’ve see them spring into action after a disaster, just as a lot of people don’t value what hospitals do until after they’ve been a patient. On a day-to-day basis we can all get so deep in our work that we just don’t see what the other person is doing. What we’re learning is that we all serve the same person.

Tags: Access to Health Care, Community Benefit, Community benefit, Hospitals, Keeneland Conference, PHSSR, Public Health Departments, Public health, Q&A