July 28, 2014

Our CA Healthy Food in Health Care program is diving a little deeper this summer into investigating changes in the IRS regulations surrounding community benefits in health care.  These changes can provide opportunities for CA health care systems to engage more deeply within their communities, outside the walls of their facilities, to improve food environments and to increase access and availability to healthy, sustainably-grown foods.

Tax exempt 501(c3) organizations annually file the core tax form, the IRS 990. Health care organizations that include licensed hospitals complete a Schedule H as part of this tax filing to report the annual expenditures for community benefit and community-building activities, programs and services designed to improve health in communities and increase access to health care. Traditionally, much of these community benefit dollars have been spent on charity care. As more Americans qualify for Medicaid or other health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, health care experts predict the demand for hospital-based charity care will shrink, and this will free up resources at nonprofit hospitals to provide other community benefits – activities that improve the overall health of the population.

The ACA helped to clarify and expand the definition of “community benefit” so that hospitals are now required to conduct a community health needs assessment at least every three years and develop a strategy to meet those needs. These assessments provide new opportunities for the public health community and clinical care community to collaborate for improved environmental health outcomes. One of the common needs identified in these assessments is increased access to healthy, nutritious food.

Our Farm Fresh Healthcare project was developed in part with the support of community benefit funding from Kaiser Permanente over the past three years, and more opportunities are on the horizon. We are recognizing a potential niche for SF PSR and the Healthy Food in Health Care program to support hospitals that are interested in improving their community food environments through their community benefit programs, increasing access to healthy nutritious foods, and supporting the growth of local, sustainable food production operations.

“Epidemiological research has established that the health of an entire population is mostly influenced by socioeconomic factors such as educational attainment and family income, interacting with genetic, environmental and other factors. Access to health care accounts for a relatively small percentage of health status (as little as 10 percent, for the entire population), while behaviors that promote or threaten health (“health risk factors”) account for as much as 50 percent of health status.” The Boston Paradox, Lots of Health Care, Not enough Health,” New England Healthcare Institute, 2007.

For more information on our Healthy Food in Health Care program and the Farm Fresh Healthcare project, click here.

For more information on community benefits and community benefit programs, please visit the Catholic Health Association’s website here.