Health » Overview

Interviews and coverage from our Health programs


Building Healthy Communities – Prioritizing Health Creation

Participants consider how to keep institutions focused on health creation and how to manage the trade-offs for everyone

From left to right – Paul Burstow, Eddie Bartnik, Gael Surgenor and Gary Cohen speaking at Salzburg Global Seminar

Tomás De La Rosa | 11.12.2017

The question of how health creation can remain a priority when institutions are geared to other primary goals is one that’s difficult to find just one answer for. Participants of the Salzburg Global session, Building Healthy Communities: The Roles of Hospital, considered the best strategies on Sunday morning as part of the session’s final plenary discussion.

In addition, participants also explored how to creatively manage the trade-offs for everyone, not just health care institutions. To help them, Gary Cohen, Gale Surgenor, Eddie Bartnik, and Paul Burstow spoke from their experience and provided case studies to reflect on.

Cohen discussed the broader mission hospitals have in supporting people in equitable and healthy societies through environmental sustainability. Calling hospitals “the cathedrals of our time,” he argued they need to reduce waste, use more sustainable energy sources, and eliminate toxic chemicals such as mercury.

He also explained how hospitals contribute to the health of individuals, communities, and the planet, finishing with the open-ended question, “Who else is to defend the human right to health than ourselves who are responsible for healing?”

Sharing the example of communities in South Auckland, New Zealand, where "only the hood can change the hood" is the rule, Surgenor explained how it’s essential to collaborate with communities to educate them about their own health. This type of co-design helps communities by having them teach institutions about human design.

Bartnik, a strategic advisor to the National Disability Insurance Agency, highlighted the importance of connecting with local communities through positive assumptions and asking the right questions to help communities find local solutions.

He also explained how strategic conversations are necessary for a fair and connected support system saying, “We must ensure it doesn’t take over and families or communities always have a say.”

Paul Burstow, former Minister of State for the UK Department of Health, used the example of elderly people in health care losing value and agency due to their status, as a reminder of how services must be humble as they only represent 10 percent of the concept of health. “What people fundamentally want is to live a good life, and not be surrounded by systems,” he said.

He then urged participants not to use co-production to perpetuate business arguing, “Products must enhance life, not burden people. Institutions should be fundamentally bottom-up; communities should instruct people at the top on what their needs are.”

Reflecting on the discussion, a participant talked about how each individual’s story is different, saying, “With decision-makers, it's about considering how to budget effectively to provide appropriate care, but with patients, it needs to be how to improve their lives and create a better experience.”

The session, Building Healthy Communities: The Role of Hospitals is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session, follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.

Tomás De La Rosa