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Hospitals should be exemplars of healthy workplaces

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In ancient Egypt and Greece, temples functioned as centres of medical advice and healing. Hospitals are now the temples of the health care world, performing modern-day miracles in treating illness and injury. However, the gains in life expectancy made in the past century owe as much to public health interventions as to hospital-based care,1 and in the 21st century the world faces a different set of challenges arising from chronic diseases. Tackling the root causes of chronic disease — such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise, poor housing, contaminated environments, smoking and alcohol misuse — requires more than doctors, nurses and prescription pads.

Hospitals see the consequences and bear the burden of failures to deal with the social determinants of health. Given their unique position in the health care system, it is time for hospitals to become stronger advocates for health, wellbeing and the environment. As major employers and flagship health care organisations, hospitals can influence the norms of the communities they serve by adopting model policies and practices that promote the health of patients, visitors, employees, students and trainees.

Increasingly, hospitals are required to take into consideration the health status of the communities they serve in designing and delivering their services. In the United States, this is recognised in the community health needs assessment requirements…