High Stakes

National Healthcare Midwest recap: Why social determinants are the new green building

national healthcare midwest

There’s a model for new ideas infiltrating an industry. Take sustainability and green building – fifteen years ago, no one in construction was talking about those issues. Now, they’re a standard part of almost every conversation.

The same is true for social determinants of health in healthcare, as one panelist pointed out at this week’s National Healthcare Midwest conference. The event featured an agenda as wide-ranging as its name suggests. Industry outsiders got a crash course in healthcare buzzwords from “single payer” to “quad aim” and everything in between. It also attracted a broad audience – speakers and attendees came from the construction and real estate worlds – the people literally building the future of healthcare – to hear what’s top-of-mind for the people who are figuratively building it.

A few issues that surfaced:

  • The rise of cultural determinants. More and more, it’s becoming clear that social determinants are the most reliable predictors of overall health. Meaning, to make an impact, hospitals can get to work addressing them now, rather than looking for industry disruptors from Silicon Valley or Wall Street. Healthcare organizations can start improving lives by developing community-focused health partnerships that drive prevention and address disparities. It’s not as sexy as being The Next Big Thing, but, on the upside, it may actually work.
  • The decline of the hospital. Let’s not call it the apocalypse quite yet, since hospitals will continue to be essential for complex cases. But Cook County Health Chair of Medicine Suja Mariam Mathew put it best when she said “[We] need a paradigm shift. Instead of measuring how successful we are by how many people we serve within the walls of the hospital, we need to measure by how many we can keep out.” As the hub of the health system shrinks, those that thrive will be building effective networks, block-by-block, town-by-town.
  • Building the future of healthcare takes a true team. As the plates have shifted beneath the industry over the last decade, culture has often taken a backseat to operations and partnerships as health systems focus on ways to survive and eventually thrive. This is a mistake, according to Chicago’s Sinai Health System CEO Karen Teitelbaum. She said if there’s one thing she could go back and change about the 2013 acquisition of Holy Cross Hospital, it would be a greater focus on cultural integration at the outset.

In a changing industry, team members often feel the repercussions most acutely. Their support can make or break deals, initiatives and partnerships. As University of Illinois Cancer Center Director Dr. Robert Winn said, quoting an old mentor: “If the only support you have is from the top, you’re actually just hanging on.” Change is the not-so-new normal, and grassroots support is going to be what creates successful health systems.


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