Building a healthier city through social enterprise

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According to Gallup research, the United States is spending $2.5 trillion in health care and this is predicted to grow at 6 percent over the next 10 years. The Center for Disease Control reports more than 75 percent of total health care spending is on people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, many preventable and if properly contained can drive down the community cost.

It is more important now than ever to determine how to control these costs, and businesses have a huge role to play in this.

The true power of a job is to give people purpose. Keeping people employed not only increases their quality of life but ensures their health and well-being. In his book “Wellbeing,” Tom Rath, author of “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” uses research to show that the five components of well-being are not all created equal. While social, community, financial and physical well-being play a vital role in one’s happiness, career well-being has twice as much impact, Rath concludes.

Gallup research shows that those actively disengaged from their career are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and other health issues. According to researchers, these results suggest one possible mechanism through which our workplace experiences directly influence our physical health. Boosting your career well-being might be one of the most important priorities to consider.

Recently the Business Journal highlighted a new business model called Social Enterprise. Businesses subscribe to an innovative philosophy that develops and eventually scales promising and transformative community-based approaches that solve critical social problems. By merging social mission with competitive business strategies, these businesses are achieving social change by mixing mission with margin. One major contribution this new sector has made is in health care.

Research tells us about 5 percent of the population is responsible for about 49 percent of health care spending. Social enterprise businesses serve about 95 percent of that 5 percent, so by training and employing disenfranchised and at-risk populations, they are significantly reducing expense. When these businesses give a job to a veteran, at-risk youth or individuals with mental illness, these populations are at less risk for suicide, mental health crises and emergency-room visits.

Perhaps the most important piece that impacts all these factors is reduced unemployment. Many lose hope without the purpose of a job or career and must utilize community resources that are often expensive for taxpayers.

According to Michael Allen, vice president of AspenPointe Health Network, Colorado Springs has the state’s busiest emergency rooms for unnecessary reasons. In the Pikes Peak region, the average cost of an emergency room visit for people with Medicaid is $472 while the average cost of a primary-care visit is between $128 and $190. “This may not seem like a big difference, but we have many people going to the emergency department 20, 30, even 50 times each year. It adds up,” Allen says.

When looking at health from business standpoint, we see that the numbers indicate only one thing — prevention is worth its weight in gold. Increasing purpose, self-sustainability and confidence leads everyone to live a happier and thus healthier life. By leveraging the power of employment, businesses can provide solutions to our community in a productive and healthy manner, thus alleviating strain on resources and improving the health of both individuals and communities.

Jonathan Liebert is vice president of enterprises for AspenPointe, a nonprofit social enterprise that applies market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose.