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Keywords:

  • Community accountability;
  • hospitals;
  • social capital;
  • hospital services

Objectives. The study related community social capital to the level of community accountability and provision of community-oriented services in U.S. community hospitals.

Study Setting. The sample included 1,383 community hospitals that participated in the 1997 American Hospital Association's (AHA) Hospital Annual and Governance Surveys.

Data Sources. (1) The 1997 AHA Annual Hospital Survey, (2) the 1997 AHA Hospital Governance Survey, (3) the DDB Needham Market Facts Survey, (4) the 1996 County Election Data File, and (5) the 1998 Area Resource File.

Research Design. The study used a mix of longitudinal and cross-sectional data.

Key Findings. We identified two distinct indicators of social capital—community participation and voting participation. Community accountability in hospitals was unrelated to either indicator. Hospitals' provision of community-oriented health services was negatively associated with community participation but unrelated with voting participation. The interaction between voting participation and community representation on hospital governance was positively associated with community accountability and provision of community-oriented health services.

Conclusion. Neither community participation nor voting participation was sufficient to influence hospital behavior. The positive finding associated with the interaction between voting participation and community representation on hospital governance underscored the importance of an active political culture in influencing hospital behavior, without which the installation of community representatives on hospital governance might be more symbolic than actually serving the health concerns of community residents.