Dean says ministry must be voice for voiceless amid challenges to ACA

July 1, 2018


SAN DIEGO — Lloyd Dean emphasized to an audience of community benefit experts attending the pre-assembly community benefit program here that their systems and facilities must engage with their communities to address the social determinants of health.

Dean, the president and chief executive of Dignity Health, said the health and well-being of community members demands attention to their social and economic needs. But because these needs outstrip health care providers' ability to respond, alignment with community partners is essential, he said.


Dean said his concern for the health care poor is rooted in empathy. He spoke of growing up in Western Michigan in a community with no health care services. His first encounter with a health care professional came in junior high when he and other young athletes rode a bus 12 miles to a health care facility for sports physicals.

Two of his grandparents "died 15 years prematurely because they had no access to health care," he said.

In his presentation titled "Building Healthy Communities Through Innovative Solutions," Dean highlighted the importance of a focus on population health, care coordination among health and social service providers at the community level, and partnerships and smart use of data to bolster community benefit efforts.

Dean acknowledged how very disheartening it is to see so many efforts at the state and federal level to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. He said it is essential for the ministry to remain vigilant and active in preserving the gains in health access and health insurance coverage it helped secure. As it fights to protect those advances, the ministry is called to continue to care for those vulnerable individuals "slipping through the cracks," he said.

Dean said, "I can't believe" that people in the U.S. are still arguing the fact that health care is a human right. He expressed concern about federal efforts to undermine the ACA, including a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice not to defend in court provisions in the ACA that prohibit insurers from denying coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions.

He said because of this and other attacks meant to weaken the ACA, "millions now fear their health coverage is at risk and that it won't be adequate to meet their needs."

Dean shared some ways Dignity Health is addressing community needs including through:

  • Pioneering work with developing effective community health needs assessments. Dignity Health said it helped originate a community needs index map that identifies health needs by zip code. This type of needs mapping is now standard at most health systems.
  • Partnerships with a wide range of community organizations to assist patients and reduce hospital readmissions throughout their care continuum.
  • Dignity Health's Community Investment Program, which has invested $200 million in local communities since its inception. This includes low-interest loans to build affordable housing.
  • A new partnership with Andy Slavitt of Town Hall Ventures to transform Medicaid services through a tech-driven approach that supports the highest-risk patients based on a range of social determinant data.

Dean said, "I believe these are the kinds of initiatives we will all have to rally around to address the current situation in the U.S. — that so many must worry about health and health access."



Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.