You need public health investment in your 2021 strategic plan

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Two big public health ideas to include as your organization looks ahead to the New Year

The end of the year often coincides with business strategy and budget planning. This year, COVID-19 should serve as the wake up call to business leaders that public health investment is as critical to bottom line profitability as supply chain management, research and development, or branding. The economy cannot function if consumers can’t consume.

Nonsense you say. Look at the how well companies in certain economic sectors, such as logistics and transportation, life sciences, or telecommunications, have performed as a result of the pandemic. Well, I say if pandemics are not your poison, have you considered the economic impact of raging wildfires, extreme weather events, mass-scale human migration, and systemic racism that suppresses the economic productivity of large segments of the population? All of these are public health concerns.

A new look at public health investment

In a previous post, I made the case that businesses are using the wrong framework to assess the return on certain business investments. The world has crossed a threshold where the costs of underinvestment in matters of public health can no longer be socialized. The scale of loss in economic productivity is simply too large.

If you are a C-suite executive, sit on a Board of Directors, or hold a position where you recommend strategic investments, then you need to start talking with public health experts today. You can link to my contact information below to schedule a consultation that will open your eyes to a very different perspective on your business investments. To whet your appetite for this different point of view, I offer you two big ideas for you to ponder as you plan your 2021 investments.

Big idea #1 – Invest in anti-racism initiatives

Anti-racism efforts are economic investments. Public health professionals have been measuring the impacts of racism on health, education, housing, and justice for decades. In the US and other high-income countries, knowledge and talent is considered more profitable than tangible assets such as equipment or computers. Building up the country’s intangible assets will improve economic growth.

Currently, systemic racism blocks more than 13% of the US population from being an open supply of these intangible assets, considering only the impact on the Black/African-American portion of the population. The impact is even larger as we consider other persons of color and indigenous groups. As we stand, a person with black or brown skin is more likely to

  • Be paid less for the same work than a white person.
  • Be denied housing despite having the same qualifications as a white person.
  • Die from chronic disease than a white person.
  • Die when bearing children compared to a white person.
  • Imprisoned for crimes for which a white person would avoid punishment.

The bottom line is racism presents a drag on the economy. Not addressing the factors that withhold possibilities from the entire population will continue to impede the economy and your business. By investing in anti-racist initiatives, your business has the potential to grow opportunities and business while improving outcomes for these populations.

So how does a company address such an intractable problem? It’s not simply a matter of hiring a diversity consultant, putting the diversity plan on the shelf, and checking that box. Take a look at the composition of your C-suite executives, your Board of Directors, and other senior leaders. If your senior leadership does not look like the population of the United States, composed of people with different skin color, biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion, then you are part of the problem.

Public health professionals can help you begin the hard work of addressing this challenge, planning to develop the right processes to build a pipeline of talent that reflects the rich diversity of our country. You should contact us today to get started down this path.

Big idea #2 – Plan for the next public health disruption

Extreme weather events like wild fires and rolling power shortages are not going to disappear magically. How is your company prepared to manage the next occurrence? Such events will not only disrupt your company’s operations, but may impact your employees health as health systems are forced offline or overrun by demand, as substance abuse increases, and as employees lack access to mental health services. Your workers are one of your most valuable assets and having a disaster preparedness plan in place for your employees is as important as managing your company’s operational logistics. You should reach out to public health professionals today for a workforce disaster preparedness plan.

A simple idea that merits further exploration is providing continued support for a remote workforce, even as the pandemic wanes over the next 12 to 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that a substantial portion of the knowledge economy can function in a virtual office setting. Even the healthcare sector, which has been historically rooted to local geographies, has learned to provide remote services using new technologies.

Concentrating your company’s resources in a limited number of geographic locations has little economic benefit and exposes your company to increasing risks from natural disasters. Consider the cost of living for your employees. Forcing a substantial portion of your employee population to live in or commute to expensive metro-centers increases your salary costs. It may be hard to convince employees to slog their way through a twice-daily commute to sit in an office tower when they have experienced the work-at-home lifestyle.

Many skilled workers do prefer to be located near metro centers with many resources for higher education. Institutes of higher education, including Boston University, are investing heavily in remote learning, allowing for your employees to benefit from advanced training from a top-tier research and educational institution from any location. Contact us to learn more about remote training for your workforce.

Finally, many metropolitan areas have extreme housing shortages which drive up housing costs for employees. Public health professionals have been studying the impacts of limited housing on the health of populations for a long time. Public health professionals working in collaboration with public policy experts, environmental health experts, and engineers/architects are working to address housing issues. For more information, talk to us. We are available to share our public health perspectives on expanding access to housing that could benefit your workforce and drive down costs.

Treating public health strategically

Public health issues may be out of focus in your current strategic planning processes, but they are impacting your company’s bottom line. Now is the time to reach out to public health professionals to integrate public health thinking into your strategic plan. To learn more about how investments in public health can improve your bottom line, contact us.


Dr. Craig S. Ross serves as Executive Director of the idea hub at Boston University School of Public Health and holds a faculty position in the Epidemiology Department. Dr. Ross conducts research at the intersection of commerce and public health, with a particular focus on the influence of commercially-promoted products on the health of vulnerable populations including children, adolescents, women, and immigrants. 

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