A Collaborative Approach to Making Healthy and Sustainable Choices
When it comes to sustainability, Nancy Clifton-Hawkins, MPH, CHES, practices what she teaches. “We all live in a global community. It’s up to each of us to see how we make this global community better.”
As a public health consultant, Clifton-Hawkins works with non-profit hospitals and organizations to create long-term community benefit programs that meet the health needs in the communities they serve. As a faculty member at University of Phoenix, she teaches students—mostly nurses—how to achieve lasting results with their patients. And as a member of her community, she advocates for those who might not otherwise have a voice.
“For me, (sustainability) is creating change that makes a solid impact that is able to stand the test of time. It is change that is embraced by the target population and is maintained by those in that population.”
And that requires collaboration, compromise and most of all, commitment from each side to be successful. “Whether it’s a community, business or an individual, if you don’t get their buy-in to change behavior, it won’t last,” she says.
Creating sustainable health programs
In her consulting work, Clifton-Hawkins integrates a framework for developing sustainable changes in the non-profit hospital practice of accounting for and delivering community benefit programs. To maintain their non-profit status, hospitals must provide non-compensated community benefit equal to or greater than the taxes they would normally pay. Many times, hospitals try to use marketing programs to fill the community benefit requirement, but that just doesn’t work, according to Clifton-Hawkins.
“I assess gaps and create a structure to better meet the needs of people who live in the service area,” she says.
For example, if a hospital offers a course in diabetes management at 7:00 p.m. on the hospital campus, it most likely won’t be effective. “The people who would benefit from this program may not go out at night, or be able to drive themselves to the hospital. Or depending on the area, there may be a language barrier.”
To build a sustainable program, Clifton-Hawkins invites members of the community—even competing hospitals—to work together toward developing programs that meet the need. “That way there is buy-in from both sides and a commitment to keep it moving forward,” she says. “I teach collaboration. Through shared leadership in reviewing and designing programs, there is a sense of attachment and success. A top down approach doesn’t work.”
Clifton-Hawkins uses the same approach with students she teaches. “I teach my students to take the same idea to one-on-one patient care,” she says. “I ask them to look up from their patient charts and actually talk to their patients, working with them to design a treatment and education plan they can live with. It helps improve the quality of patient care.”
She also encourages her students to get involved in their community. “I tell my students, ‘If you see something that doesn’t look or feel right, investigate it.’ Everyone needs help sometimes, why shouldn’t you be the one to help?”
And it works. “In every class, I have one to three students ask me about how they can get involved by volunteering. I love to empower people and organizations with information that helps them make positive, sustainable and healthy changes.”
A shift in thinking
Over the last 20 years, we created a society of co-dependency, says Clifton-Hawkins. “People relied on others to take care of them. They would go into a doctor or health system with the attitude, ‘Fix me’,” she says. “I have seen an evolution to a collaborative partnership in care. People are more proactive in taking care of themselves.”
Corporations and the government are getting involved as well. “The public sector realized that they are not capable of meeting needs given their vulnerability to the political processes. The private sector is getting clobbered with the large numbers of people seeking their services,” says Clifton-Hawkins. “Together they can collaborate to share resources and better serve the needs of their organizations and their community. Some are even realizing that not doing so is irresponsible.”
Whether it’s a personal choice or a business decision, Clifton-Hawkins encourages each person to create a better environment. “We’re all better off when we help each other.”
This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.