How health care quietly powers the U.S. economy

What have hospitals done for us lately? Actually, quite a lot.

MICHAEL DOWLING: Health care is a humongous economic engine. It's often forgotten about the fact that there is a real contribution to the economy by health care. If you're running a large health care organization, you're probably the place that is doing the most construction in the region. So for example, in our organization, we do more construction than anybody else.

If you want to be in the health care business and you want to be in the laundry business, we have the largest laundry service. If you want to be in maintenance, we have probably one of the largest maintenance shops in the region. The dietary business – just imagine the amount of meals that are provided in a hospital every day; more meals than are provided in any restaurant than you can think about here in Manhattan, every single day, seven days a week. So if you want to be in the dietary business, in the food business, health care is a job growth area.

The point I'm trying to make is it is not just a business that only takes care of the medical treatment of a person who comes in who is ill. It's all of the other ancillary business. So whatever occupation that you want to be in, you can find it inside health care.

If you're in a poor community and you have a hospital – and some people would say, maybe that hospital in that community is not doing that well, but also, remember, that it is the largest employment source in that community. And that's why you often get into a discussion about, well, maybe that hospital should be downsized. Maybe that hospital should be closed. And there are reasons to argue those points in certain circumstances, but you also have to face with the reality that, in those cases, that place is the only place that hires people from that community. So if that facility closes, there are no jobs in that community. Therefore, that community, which is deprived at the moment, will only be more deprived if the hospital closes. So it's just not only health care alone that you're looking at. It's all of the surrounding issues that are connected to the direct provision of health care services.

  • There is enormous job growth happening in the health care sector. It added 346,000 new jobs in 2018, outpacing every other sector.
  • Hospitals economically sustain large communities not only through medical care but through ancillary industries such as construction, laundry, maintenance and food service jobs.
  • Hospitals are a silent but mighty economic engine. Closing down hospitals rather than revitalizing where possible can deprive struggling communities even further.
  • Michael Dowling is the author of Health Care Reboot with Charles Kenney.