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Priorities for Investing in Community Health Improvement

A Comparison of Decision Makers in Public Health, Nonprofit Hospitals, and Community Nonprofits

Rozier, Michael D., PhD, MHS; Singh, Simone R., PhD, MA; Jacobson, Peter D., JD, MPH; Prosser, Lisa A., PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: July/August 2019 - Volume 25 - Issue 4 - p 322–331
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000848
Research Reports: Research Full Report
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Context: As a result of additional requirements for tax exemption, many nonprofit hospitals have become more actively involved in community health improvement. There is an open question, however, as to how decision makers in hospitals decide which kind of improvement projects should receive priority and how hospital managers' priorities compare with those of decision makers in public health agencies and community-based nonprofits.

Objective: To understand the priorities that guide decision makers in public health, nonprofit hospitals, and community nonprofits when allocating resources to community health projects.

Design: We conducted an online survey with a discrete choice experiment, asking respondents to choose between different types of community health projects, which varied along several project characteristics. Respondents included managers of community health and community benefit at nonprofit hospitals (n = 225), managers at local public health departments (n = 200), and leaders of community nonprofits (n = 136). Respondents were located in 47 of 50 US states. A conditional logit model was used to estimate how various project characteristics led to greater or lesser support of a given health project. Open-ended questions aided in interpretation of results.

Results: Respondents from all 3 groups showed strong agreement on community health priorities. Projects were more likely to be selected when they addressed a health issue identified on community health needs assessment, involved cross-sector collaboration, or were supported by evidence. Project characteristics that mattered less included the time needed to measure the project's impact and the project's target population.

Conclusion: Elements often considered central to community health, such as long-term investment and prioritizing vulnerable populations, may not be considered by decision makers as important as other aspects of resource allocation. If we want greater priority for ideas such as health equity and social determinants of health, it will take a concerted effort from practitioners and policy makers to reshape expectations.

Department of Health Management and Policy, Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice, St Louis, Missouri (Dr Rozier); Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan (Drs Singh and Jacobson); and Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, University of Michigan School of Medicine, Ann Arbor, Michigan (Dr Prosser).

Correspondence: Michael D. Rozier, PhD, MHS, Department of Health Management and Policy, Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice, 3545 Lafayette, St Louis, MO 63104 (mrozier1@slu.edu).

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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