A $2.83 Billion Investment in Your Good Health

A mobile farmer’s market that takes fresh produce to urban neighborhoods. Exercise programs and free pedometers that encourage residents to “get their steps in.” Narcan donations to local police and EMS squads. All brought to you by your local hospital. 

We all know that hospitals are open to their communities 24/7. We know that they’re an important employer, providing more than 150,000 jobs statewide. But you may not know that New Jersey’s nonprofit hospitals also invest more than $2.83 billion annually in the health and social needs of people in their communities. 

It’s easy to overlook these hospital programs; they’re so interwoven in our lives and municipalities that they sometimes fall into the background. But I hope we never take for granted these programs that help people where they live, work and play. 

These initiatives are known as “community benefit.” Each year, nonprofit hospitals and health systems report their community benefit activities to the IRS. The New Jersey Hospital Association gathers this information and compiles it into a statewide Community Benefit Report available to the public, based on standard definitions used nationwide. In New Jersey, hospitals’ community benefit contributions for 2017 (that’s the most recent year available) include: 

  • $1.9 billion in free and discounted care for the uninsured, underinsured and others without the means to pay
  • $60 million in community health programs addressing local needs such as nutrition, safety, housing and exercise
  • $247 million in health professions education and scholarships to prepare the next generation of physicians and nurses, and
  • $621 million in other community health programs, which include donations to municipalities or programs that the hospital provides to meet a community need, even if it loses money doing so. 

All told, an estimated 19 million people across New Jersey benefited from one or more of those programs in 2017. 

Those are big, impressive numbers. But as a nurse, I tend to think of these things on a more personal level – the patient level. And these big numbers become very real to some of the people I’ve seen in my years as a nurse. For a mom with diabetes living on a fixed income with limited transportation, that mobile farmers market helps her eat right, manage her disease, go to work each day and provide for her family. Those pedometers handed out to an excited 5th grade class are an investment in good health that could last a lifetime in improved quality of life and reduced healthcare costs. And that Narcan donation to local first responders may cost the hospital several thousand dollars, but its potential to save lives is priceless. 

These community benefit programs are part of our hospitals’ commitment not just to healing the sick, but in keeping people well. It requires us all, working as partners in our community, to improve the health of the people of New Jersey. 

Kathryn Burns Collins, RN, is clinical quality improvement specialist for the New Jersey Hospital Association. Her work focuses on healthcare quality, nursing innovation and advance care planning.

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Kathryn Burns Collins, RN, DMH(c ), is interim chief administrative officer at the Health Research and Educational Trust of New Jersey, a nonprofit affiliate of the New Jersey Hospital Association. Her work focuses on healthcare quality improvement, nursing innovation and advance care planning.

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