In recent years, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibly has attracted increased interest from both the general public and large corporations who continue to debate the merits of sustainable practices across a multitude of industries such as oil and gas, banking and construction.
While people would expect the healthcare sector to take the lead among other industries in terms of CSR, health care institutions still lag behind most businesses when it comes to sustainable practices despite the enormous total healthcare spending and its global impact on society and the environment.
In 2014, global healthcare spending accounted for 10.5% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. And as future costs are expected to rise, governments, healthcare providers, tax payers, and consumers will be facing numerous challenges.
These include catering to an increasingly aging population and providing treatment to chronic diseases, ensuring the affordability and sustainability of healthcare services, improving health care access; and benefiting from advances in healthcare technologies without increasing costs.
One way to address those challenges is the integration of CSR strategies into the daily operations of healthcare-related corporations that are required to collaborate on ways to improve the care they deliver, increase their efficiencies and decrease their costs.
Beyond Medical Treatment
The same challenges apply In Lebanon where only 40% of the population benefits from social security.
Ensuring healthcare access to an increasing number of people and providing them with services beyond the medical treatment received at hospitals is gaining momentum, according to a number of Lebanese healthcare experts and doctors.
“Today, social care has become as important as the medical treatment provided by hospitals. Healthcare consumers are not only interested in receiving medical care, but also expect you to be active on the front of preventive care, and this is where CSR programs come in place,” said Dr. Fadi Alame, vice president of the syndicate of hospitals in Lebanon.
Alame explains that it is the responsibility of healthcare institutions to meet the rising expectations of consumers through the adoption of socially responsible methodologies and practices. However, he concedes that hospitals in Lebanon still have a long way to go. “Up to this point, it is not really a standard practice amongst hospitals in the country, though some of them do understand the importance of CSR,” he said.
The syndicate of hospitals is working on setting standards that will help hospitals incorporate CSR strategies, though “the initiative is still in its infancy stage,” Alame adds.
Creating Value Through Collaboration
CSR programs involve collaboration with several stakeholders including medical schools and NGOs across Lebanon. “CSR is about value creation, and the only way to create value is through collaboration. And this is why you see so many activities happening between a hospital and an NGO, or another institution in order to create value for the society at a cost that is fairly reasonable to everyone at this point,” Alame explains.
CSR was a hot topic on the agenda of the national conference organized by the syndicate of hospitals last November. In 2015, the syndicate launched several CSR initiatives that included lecturing patients and their relatives about preemptive healthcare solutions, and organizing tours to offer free medical exams and advice to the community.
Among hospitals taking part in these CSR initiatives is the Sahel General Hospital. Alame who chairs the hospital’s board of directors, says his institution has created a charitable organization under the name of Sahel Forum. The Forum which consists of 12 female volunteers acts as the hospital’s CSR department.
“We wanted to show the community that there is an equal and strong respect for women in our society,” Alame said of his hospital’s endeavor to promote the role of women in society. Sahel Forum plans its annual CSR initiatives to complement programs launched by the UN World Health Organization during the same period. This way, the forum can bridge the gap between what the UN is offering and the needs of the Lebanese people.
“We look at the social needs of our community and then launch the program for that specific year based on a combination of what the WHO is offering and the need of the Lebanese market,” Alame explained. The program engages public and private schools, NGOs and city councils to raise awareness about cancer, AIDS and drug addiction among other topics.
“We started training social workers inside the hospital and implemented a number of measures to keep track of the progress made by social workers who are actively involved in the society,” Alame said.
Sahel Forum has been receiving support from organizations such as the Youth against Drugs (JCB) who has been training social workers and assisting them during school tours aimed at raising awareness among children about the dangers of drugs.
Other NGOs and UN organizations have also been supporting Sahel Forum and other non-profit hospitals in their CSR endeavors.
“Not-for-profit hospitals get the support once they have the will and the program they want to roll down to the community,” Alame said.
CSR Gaining Momentum Among Hospitals
More hospitals have expressed interest in CSR programs lately, according to Riad Farah, medical engineering manager at Saint George hospital in Lebanon. “Actually hospitals and healthcare providers are by nature of their service the closest to CSR, therefore it is easier for them to operate within the CSR guidelines than businesses in other industries,” Farah says.
Hospitals can demonstrate their commitment to CSR by simply complying with international and fair legal practices, he explains.
“Hospitals can be socially responsible by not recruiting children or dealing with anyone who does so; by respecting international and fair legal practices; by considering the impact of their operations on the environment, by organizing medical health fares and offering free exams to the society,” Farah says.
As an indication of the momentum that CSR is gaining among healthcare institutions in Lebanon, more hospitals have adhered in recent years to the ISO 26000, an International Standard giving guidance on Social Responsibility.
“It is a cultural change that gives pride for hospital employees who care about the society and also a preferred choice for patients,” Farah says.
Simply put, the guidelines of ISO 26000, ensure a good working environment that offers sustainability for both the institution and society, Farah adds.
However, despite the progress that Lebanon’s healthcare institutions have achieved, they still lag behind their peers in Western countries when it comes to the incorporation of CSR strategies into daily operations. But Farah is hopeful.
“We don’t have a choice, I think we should not only think on how we could financially survive but also how to help our society survive. I am sure this will be a strategic decision that everybody has to take soon,” he says.
Engaging Patients and the Community
Alame describes the incorporation of CSR strategies into the culture of hospitals as an ongoing process that requires the involvement of patients in their treatments and educating them on how to prevent illness as to bring down the rising healthcare costs.
“CSR will come in as a main component for a patient centered environment that involves active social programs to educate people, offer them a better choice, and hopefully along the line, help care providers decrease costs,” he says.
Engaging people in CSR programs have proved successful in recent years thanks to social media platforms that have contributed to increased awareness among health care consumers.
“When we launched the Sahel Forum a few years back, we were always concerned on who will attend our events,” Alame says. But to his surprise, the last free healthcare day organized by Sahel Forum, has attracted more than 2800 participants. The event featured 50 small booth to examine people and offer them free consultation by doctors.
“People are not shy, they are hungry to learn more. I think we need to do a lot more, and get more people engaged in this program because end consumers are willing and eager to receive all this information,” he says.
The next challenge for the syndicate of hospitals is to attempt to organize events on a national level, which, according to Alame, requires more advanced organizational skills.
“We have a moral obligation to do something beyond providing medical care at hospitals. We owe it to the future generations to assume our responsibility and give back to the community.”
Source: Responsible Business Magazine