Chamber Executive Article Archive

Good Health is Good for Business in Nashville

By Shuma Panse




Nashville is a city on the move. Forbes and Zillow cite its hot housing market. Travel & Leisure calls it a “must visit” and NerdWallet named it one of the best cities for job seekers in 2017.

And as it looks to the future, Nashville leaders are also looking to hone the city’s reputation for good health.

In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent to local leaders that despite the city’s large number of health management companies, the health of its residents did not stack up against peer cities such as Atlanta, Austin, Denver and Raleigh.

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce spearheaded an effort to assess health care cost, quality and access in the region, realizing that such a study would provide a groundbreaking opportunity to understand the relationships between health and the prosperity of region.

Working with FTI Consulting’s Center for Healthcare Economics and Policy, the chamber and a group of regional health service providers, payors, health-related nonprofits and employers launched the Health Competitiveness Initiative, beginning by comparing Nashville to 10 other peer metros.

The research found that while city residents have high rates of doctor visits and use of health services, the prevalence of chronic conditions such as hypertension, depression and diabetes was also high, particularly among the 45–64 age group. High rates of chronic conditions coupled with a concentration of older employees raised broad concerns about worker health and productivity.

Chronic conditions can lead to absenteeism from work, and businesses realized that they were bearing a significant cost by having employees present but not fully healthy.

This realization was important given Nashville’s growing number of retirees, particularly in the manufacturing and construction industries and the fact that four in five people being hired between now and 2021 will be filling retiree jobs.

Additionally, Health Competitiveness Initiative leaders gained a better picture of the cost of chronic diseases, not just for employers but for individuals as well. For example, people with diabetes experienced an 11 percent hospitalization rate, averaged 15 outpatient visits a year and were prescribed an average of 14 medications.

The findings led to new strategies to engage local employers in health assessment and improvements with a specific focus on worker productivity gains.

“Examining the data first helped us figure out how best to apply our energies. The findings helped us ask the right questions that hadn’t been asked before,” said Garrett Harper, vice president of research at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “It also unlocked really interesting conversations for us as well about how decisions are made.”

The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives named the Health Competitiveness Initiative partnership a finalist for its 2016 Regional Innovation Award, which rewards initiatives that strengthen economic competitiveness by investing in the health of children, the health of the workplace or the health of the broader community.

The award winner is announced each year at ACCE’s annual convention; the 2017 announcement will take place Tuesday, July 18 in Nashville.

Beyond the focus on employees’ health, the Nashville Area Chamber and its partners are also focused on the health of the broader community and future workforce by boosting educational outcomes and graduation rates. In addition, the Nashville region is prioritizing mass transit solutions; a healthy population is a population able to actively participate in the life and economy of a region. Transit impacts quality of life by improving air quality, promoting healthy physical activity, reducing time spent commuting and lowering the cost of a family’s transportation budget.

“We’ve realized that the payoff for everyone is significant, and improving health is a new imperative,” Harper notes.

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