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A Pennsylvania Health Care System Stewards Equitable Health and Well-Being

When successful businessman and civic leader Leonard Parker Pool wanted to build a better health care system for all citizens of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley in the 1960s, he consulted with experts from across the country, which led to the founding of Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest. Today, the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) comprises 13 hospital campuses and numerous health service locations, as well as the recently endowed Leonard Parker Pool Institute for Health (LPPIH) within LVHN, which encourages and facilitates cross-sector collaboration to improve the health of the Lehigh Valley community.

LVHN and LPPIH leaders are partnering with The Rippel Foundation to continue Mr. Pool’s legacy of a hospital system anchored in the health and well-being of its community, fostering thinking and action about how health care systems can be leaders in today's complex landscape.

Synthesizing insights to discover opportunities

LVHN is a long-time partner of Rippel. It was one of 17 philanthropies from across the United States in Rippel’s FORESIGHT initiative co-designing a bold, new future for health. The experience was foundational to its most recent engagement with Rippel beginning in March 2022.

The charge was to find common ground on how health and well-being are defined among all LVHN stakeholders; understand LVHN’s role as a steward of health and well-being of the community; and determine how to leverage assets to address social drivers. It was an opportunity to deepen alignment among the health care network and community organizations as shared stewards of the region’s health—a common and complex challenge facing today’s health care systems.

Rippel brought nationwide perspectives and the expertise to gather and synthesize local insights. Using Rippel's National Landscape Scan and first-hand experience from its Hospital Systems in Transition initiative, the team surfaced effective strategies that regional systems are implementing to bridge gaps between their present state and thriving communities. Interviews with 21 members of LVHN’s senior leadership team captured systemwide viewpoints on the network’s role in addressing the social determinants of health and awareness about the work underway. Their commitment to community and a deep sense of pride in past, current, and potential future work were encouraging signals for the work ahead.

“With significant and ever-changing forces in health care systems, the goal of the work was to better understand how Lehigh Valley Health Network, a large, complex, successful health care system, defines health and well-being of its employees, patients, and community members; understands and is aligned around its role in improving the health and well-being of the community; and leverages its assets to address social drivers or determinants.”
– Anna Creegan, Director of Systems Change, Rippel

From discovery to action

Rippel’s synthesis of the National Landscape Scan and interview findings highlighted several internal and external opportunities to further surface and amplify existing work. Under Rippel’s guidance, LHVN and LPPIH found value in the Well-Being Portfolio, which illustrates the connection between urgent services and the vital conditions for health and well-being and the need to balance investments in both. Integrating the vital conditions framework is strengthening alignment among LVHN, LPPIH, and community partners around housing, food/nutrition, education, and community well-being (mental and behavioral health)—as work progresses along three work streams:

Amplify Community Health Work. Internally, the team is creating opportunities to introduce concepts, shared language, and tools to help LVHN physicians, clinicians, and leaders see the health and well-being of all Lehigh Valley residents in a more cohesive way and the potential for new community health strategies.

Measure and Track and Progress. Rippel is bringing its enterprise evaluation expertise to help LHVN create methods for measuring and tracking progress of vital conditions in Allentown. The framework provides a method to bridge clinical and community health data and track signs of shared stewardship in action.

Design and Implement a Demonstration Project. Rippel is also facilitating a project with LVHN involving opportunities for partnerships with clinical departments to demonstrate the utility of the well-being framework.

Rippel has surfaced the characteristics of exemplar hospital stewards focused on improving community health:

  • Approach community health as a strategic imperative and investment in the future, not as a charitable silo to fulfill IRS requirements
  • Invest in vital conditions in addition to urgent services
  • Mobilize a full range of financial and non-financial assets toward vital conditions
  • Collaborate with community partners and residents

LVHN is developing the expertise to use data-informed strategies, authentic community engagement, and cross-sector partnerships as stewards of equitable health and well-being—a comprehensive approach, using the vital conditions to frame the way health care systems can play a role in addressing complex social issues that impact health. In partnership with Rippel, leaders are part of a growing movement of hospital stewards committed to unlocking their community’s potential to thrive through investments in community health, and they are leading the evolution of health care in the Lehigh Valley by following in their founder’s footsteps to learn from others in an ever-changing landscape.