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Organizations Should Align With Public Health

Did you know that employer communications were reported as the most credible source of information around the coronavirus?1 In other words, people looked to their employers for trustworthy, valid, health-related information when many things were unknown. Does this surprise you? I’m not necessarily shocked. I think that organizations are typically called upon to communicate with their people about any disruptions, concerns, adaptations, and successes—both within the organization and in the world. And as businesses, we can do a lot more to align our strategies with other public health initiatives to create real change that improves everyone’s overall well-being. In this blog, I’ll share my insights on a report published by Dr. Ron Goetzel, Ph. D., a member of our Clinical Advisory Board
and trusted professional in academia, the business community, and the healthcare policy world.

7 Ways Businesses Can Align With Public Health.

Dr. Goetzel acts as Senior Scientist and Director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies (IHPS) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Earlier this year, they partnered with de Beaumont Foundation to release a report entitled “Seven Ways Businesses Can Align with Public Health for Bold Action and Innovation.” The report offers precise recommendations and actionable steps that organizations can take to address the current pandemic as well as other ongoing public health challenges.

Below, I’ll outline the seven ways businesses can help. But first, it’s important to understand how the experts want us to use these recommendations:

  1. Review them with your organization’s executives, board, staff and all stakeholders.
  2. Identify the ones that most align with your organization’s and community’s values.
  3. Adapt and apply those recommendations in your organization.

Why should businesses care?

We’ve all seen first-hand how the pandemic has impacted our employees. Higher reports of stress and burnout. Ever-increasing mental health struggles. Women leaving the workforce in waves. Financial stress. It’s been a lot.

And we can’t just blame public health systems for the impacts we’ll be facing for years to come. There must be a discussion with all types of organizations and public health officials to create real change that leads to better health, better happiness and better well-being for all.

And so, without further ado, here are the report’s seven ways businesses like yours can align with public health strategies.

1. “Put out the fire” of COVID-19 by following the advice of credible public health experts.

Businesses have an opportunity—and, truthfully, an expectation—to influence their employees and support community health. Just like you send out communications for well-being, you can also use newsletters, social media, meetings, and role-modeling responsible behaviors to reinforce messages from health experts. This can be as simple as providing education around vaccinations, or building campaigns to support health heroes, or communicating how you’re keeping the offices safe when it’s time to bring employees back to work.

2. Improve the health and well-being of employees.

According to the report, fewer than one in five employers have comprehensive, well-resourced workplace health and well-being programs.2 And if you’re one of our clients, you’re likely that one employer! As we know, building and maintaining that internal culture of health positively impacts both employees and businesses. In fact, when organizations use all nine of our best practices, they achieve 4.7% more health risk reduction outcomes and a better overall improvement in health in general.3

But in addition to providing well-being programs to your employees, the report suggests adding in benefits like:

  • Paid sick leave apart and distinct from paid time off
  • Paid family leave
  • Increased access to vaccinations
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Enhanced work-life balance and mental health support
  • Child and adult day care benefits
  • Livable wages that are in line with community norms and standards

3. Promote healthy communities.

According to the report, it’s not enough to focus on improving an individual worker’s health—it’s important to support the health of communities in which our employees live as well. I tend to agree. For many of us, we work in the same areas where we live, learn and play. So why wouldn’t we as business leaders have a hand in how our communities focus on health?

This step may seem too complicated to get involved in, but it truly doesn’t have to be. Have volunteer days to give back to the community. Build campaigns with communications that rebuild trust in public health institutions. Encourage local governments to adopt policies that promote health and health equity.

4. Become a “force multiplier.”

The report recommends becoming a “force multiplier” by leveraging expertise, staff, and other resources to collaborate with local and state public health departments. That way, everyone can be better prepared for future public health emergencies.

What does this look like? One of the easiest things to do is volunteer. You can collect and distribute healthy food or personal protective equipment, or even offer pro-bono goods and services for organizations supporting public health. Long-term, organizations may also find creative ways to contribute to factors like the social determinants of health to help solve problems in your communities.

5. Actively facilitate public-private partnerships in the community.

Does your organization already have business disruption and preparedness plans? Think about how these plans might evolve if you hired a Chief Health Strategist. This role could extend those preparedness plans to help with the current pandemic as well as prepare for and minimize disruptions in case of future emergencies—all while keeping your populations safe and healthy in the workplace.

A role like this could also represent the interests of both your business and the public health, acting as a connector, facilitator, convener, or liaison to regularly bring your organization and public health leaders together to address common community health issues.

6. Advocate for the development of accountability dashboards.

These accountability dashboards can track and monitor progress toward achieving key economic and public health outcomes in a community. As we know, metrics are essential. They show when things are successful, where there are opportunities to improve, and how to adapt a strategy moving forward. But while public health officials have historically shied away from displaying business metrics, it may be time to look forward. There’s an opportunity to combine our insights with public health officials to generate new learnings, and find ways to present and act on those data in meaningful ways.

For example, suppose data is revealed about social determinants of health in your community. In that case, you can help by creating more chances for healthy living—making healthy foods more readily available, adding education-related benefits, providing easy access to healthcare services, adding transportation benefits, and more.

7. Advocate to rebuild and expand a national public health workforce.

The report recommends advocating to rebuild and expand a national public health workforce that’s supported by a modern IT infrastructure. The goal? To link clinical, social, and public health data for improved situational awareness, planning, implementation, and evaluation.

The main recommendation under this idea is advocating to expand the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS Corps), a military branch that includes physicians, nurses, dentists, scientists, engineers, and other professionals who advance health and protect the safety of the U.S. The idea is that if enough organizations use their power to advocate for an expansion, then we can transform raw data collected from electronic health records, insurance claims, wearable devices, and more into useful, actionable information. Once collected and analyzed, we can use these data to make decisions that address social determinants of health and other community-wide concerns.

To sum it all up.

Businesses have a hand in how communities live and thrive. It’s time to join our communities to better support our people, their families, and the neighborhoods we all live in. Because at the end of the day, everyone—from governmental health protection agencies to hospitals to marketing agencies—has a responsibility to care for our people’s health.

If you’re interested in doing more, let us know how we can help. Reach out to connect@webmd.net for insights and recommendations. And, for more information about the report, read the full version here.

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