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Global to Local: Impacting the SeaTac and Tukwila Communities

Continuing Swedish’s long-standing commitment to improve the health and well-being of our region, Swedish has partnered with Washington Global Health Alliance, Public Health of Seattle & King County, and HealthPoint to address disparities in local healthcare through a groundbreaking initiative: Global to Local.

The Global to Local initiative is a new approach in applying global solutions to local healthcare challenges in underserved populations. The partnership reached out to SeaTac and Tukwila, which are just 15 miles south of Seattle and are both strong, vibrant communities with a long history of activism and community pride. However, with the settlement of new immigrants and refugees there have been many challenged for access to healthcare. Currently there are over 70 languages spoken in SeaTac and Tukwila schools and households. Many families have never seen a primary care doctor or do not know how to navigate through the healthcare system. These challenges have increased the need for additional services to address the basic needs of the community.

What will Global to Local do?

Can you blog or tweet your way to good health?

When you think of social media, what comes to mind? For many people, it might be keeping up with friends and family on Facebook or watching a viral video on YouTube. But have you ever thought of social media as a resource for your health?

For two years, Swedish has been exploring that very question. We’ve been testing the waters of social media to see how new modes of online communication can help us better serve our patients and the community.

So far, we like what we see and believe there’s great potential. Our physicians have used new tools, such as streaming video and online chats, to host virtual conversations about various health topics. We’re also learning that this is a whole new way to make our medical experts more accessible and approachable by creating forums where people can more easily tap into their knowledge and experience.

Can social media improve the health of the community? That's what many health-care organizations, including Swedish, are trying to find out. Recently, hospitals from across the country gathered in Seattle to discuss role of social media in health care.

Perspectives on Healthcare - Spring 2011

Whenever I talk to people about Swedish, they are often surprised to learn we’re a nonprofit organization. Many people, even those who’ve lived here all their lives, just assume Swedish is a for-profit healthcare system. But the truth is Swedish was founded as a nonprofit institution 101 years ago, and we have remained true to those roots ever since.

The Puget Sound region is fortunate that most of the hospitals in our local area are either private nonprofits like Swedish, state or county hospitals like Harborview or public- district hospitals like Evergreen. The for-profits have not yet made significant inroads into our local community.

That’s not the case in other parts of the country. Of the 5,000 hospitals in the United States, about 18 percent, or 889 hospitals, are for-profit. And that number is growing. Most of these investor-owned hospitals are located in the South and Rocky Mountain region. Here in Washington, only six of the state’s 95 hospitals are for-profit.

The issue of nonprofit vs. for-profit is one I am very passionate about. I’m a big proponent for nonprofit health care and believe it plays a vital role in the fabric of society. That’s why I decided to focus this issue of Perspectives on what nonprofit health-care providers do for the community. I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk specifically about Swedish’s nonprofit mission and share some of the innovative new ways we are working to address the community’s health needs.

For-Profit vs. Nonprofit

What’s the difference between for-profit and nonprofit hospitals? One of the main differences is that for-profits are accountable to shareholders. Nonprofits are accountable to the community.

As a nonprofit, Swedish is not governed by investors. Our Board of Trustees is made up of volunteers from the community who work to make sure we’re: 1) meeting the health-care needs of the region; 2) delivering high-quality health care; and 3) managing our resources responsibly. Our board members take their role of preserving Swedish as a community asset very seriously and are focused on ensuring that Swedish is available as a resource for those in need for many years to come. In other words, they see to it that Swedish serves the interest of the public, not that of private investors. And it is worth noting that many members of our Board have made their own significant philanthropic investment in Swedish and thus our community’s health.

Nonprofit hospitals are tax-exempt organizations. We maintain this status by providing a number of services that benefit the community – charity care for the uninsured being one of the most vital. Tax-exempt hospitals in Washington state fill this critical need by providing a combined total of nearly $280 million in charity care per year. Washington hospitals also provide an additional $514 million in other services that benefit the community, including Medicaid subsidies, health-education programs, health-screening programs, support groups, medical education and clinical research.

Not being a public-district or government-owned hospital, Swedish does not raise revenue through tax levies. Instead we rely on the generous support of our community to help us invest in the health of our region. That support helps us to actively do our part to meet community needs and continuously look for ways to do even more.

In 2010, Swedish provided $112 million in services for the community, including:

  • $25 million in charity care
  • $67 million in Medicaid subsides
  • $20 million in health education, screenings, clinical research and other community benefits

Innovative Ways Swedish Is Serving the Community

Perspectives on Healthcare - Winter 2011

Health care is one of the most pressing and talked about issues of our time. Not a day goes by when the topic isn’t in the news. The cost and quality of health care, access to it, the overall health of the American population, etc., are all subjects of endless debate and political rancor.

My team and I started this series, Perspectives, to help make sense of the rhetoric and share our point of view on what it all means for our local community. We’ve explored the topic from different angles, from why electronic health records matter to the importance of end-of-life planning. Each letter has generated thoughtful questions and comments from many of you. I’ve appreciated and enjoyed the dialogue, and I encourage you to keep sharing your thoughts and opinions as the series continues.

Elevating the dialogue

Another way we’ve tried to elevate the conversation is by bringing leading thinkers in health care to the Seattle area. Through a partnership with Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL), we’ve had the privilege of hosting some brilliant writers on the subject, including author and New Yorker contributor Atul Gawande, M.D., and Washington Post and NPR correspondent T.R. Reid. Both are gifted communicators who challenged us to think in new and different ways about health care. Thank you to everyone who was able to join us for these lectures. We hope you got as much out of it as we did.

We are bringing two more authors to the community this year in conjunction with SAL. Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., will present at Town Hall on Jan. 12. His new book “The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” was named as one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times. Then on March 2, we have the great honor of hosting Tracy Kidder, author of several books including Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti and other forgotten parts of the globe.

The lecture series is one way we chose to commemorate Swedish’s 100th anniversary. Rather than throwing parties to celebrate our centennial, we felt we could have more of an impact by creating opportunities for meaningful dialogue around the very complex and nuanced topic of health care.

Our 100th anniversary symposium: how to fix health care through innovation

The capstone of our centennial year was a national symposium on how to fix health care through innovation. The two-day event was held in October and drew 41 distinguished speakers from around the globe, including chairman and CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, as well as thought leaders from Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth to name a few. More than 500 people from the community attended the event, including business and community leaders, health-care providers, health advocates and educators. 

We concluded the symposium with 12 specific action items that individual communities could implement to improve health care at the local level. A few of those action items are summarized below and were part of an opinion piece I wrote for the Seattle Times this fall. I thought I’d share those findings with you in this letter as well.

Here are some of the main ideas that emerged from the symposium:

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