As the chief executive of one of the largest publicly traded companies headquartered in the District, I have set aggressive goals for 2015: driving greater impact for our customers in health care and higher education, expanding, building on our strong talent base — and ending chronic homelessness in the area.
Why would a for-profit organization pursue such a goal? Companies can’t afford not to.
The mission of my organization, the Advisory Board Co., is to make health care better, education smarter and communities stronger by working with health systems and universities around the world to help them serve their patients and students more effectively.
A critical goal of our health-care work is ensuring that hospitals become and remain financially healthy. This enables them to treat more patients and deliver better care, and building and sustaining a financially robust customer base is just good business. In this context, it was a simple decision to join our community partner, Miriam’s Kitchen, in its work to study the link between chronic homelessness and the financial state of hospitals.
Lacking reliable and affordable health care, the chronically homeless population generates enormous costs to hospitals through frequent use of unreimbursed services such as emergency department visits, inpatient care and ambulance rides. Numerous studies have illustrated this cost burden in cities across the country, but until recently no data have accurately quantified this impact in the District.
The magnitude of this problem is daunting, but promising solutions exist, and Miriam’s Kitchen has a robust approach to advocating for their adoption here in the District. As the team at Miriam’s Kitchen evaluated its strategy, it was clear that quantifying the financial impact of the solutions they proposed would be a key step in their advocacy. I was thrilled when they came to us with an idea for an innovative cross-sector collaboration to develop the critical analysis required.
Now, 12 months later, a research team from my company built the first detailed map of the health-related costs of chronic homelessness borne by hospitals and other providers of crisis services in the District. The analysis demonstrates that each of the District’s most vulnerable chronically homeless individuals consumes an average of $40,800 in crisis services annually, costing a minimum of $19 million per year. When considering the total costs of homelessness, that number is considerably higher. Government leaders convened in late February to evaluate the city’s response to the homelessness crisis.
The District faces many critical and complex challenges, homelessness, child poverty and health disparities among them. The good news is that across the city, businesses, nonprofit organizations and public entities are working together and making a tremendous difference. Boeing provided policy expertise to support Miriam’s Kitchen’s advocacy efforts; Capital One partners with Junior Achievement to teach thousands of students key principles of financial literacy; Washington Gas enables homeowners to support their neighbors in need through the Washington Area Fuel Fund; and law firms across the city provide their services free of charge in a variety of needed areas.
Across the board, the business leaders I talk to whose companies are contributing in these ways report that the efforts both support the community and drive positive impacts for their businesses, with benefits ranging from increased employee engagement to a stronger and more loyal customer base.
Our only hope for meaningful progress on our critical community challenges is to combine the unique expertise and resources of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to drive collective action. It is exciting to see companies recognize the business case for contributing to these efforts: When business interests align with social needs, we have a tremendous opportunity for change.
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