Health promotion should go without saying

Health promotion in hospitals is a good way of attracting new employees as well. National and regional networks are helping to implement measures.

Peter Nowak, Photo: R. Ettl/GÖG

Text: Dietmar Schobel

“It should really go without saying that hospitals and other healthcare institutions promote health,” says Peter Nowak, head of the Competence Centre for Health Promotion and Healthcare at Gesundheit Österreich GmbH founded in 2022, adding: “Ideally, the healthcare institution as a whole and its processes should evolve to become a health-promoting organisation that has an influence on patients, employees and people from the region.”

The call to reorientate health services in this way goes back to the Ottawa Charter of 1986, the foundational document for health promotion supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). The world’s first pilot project for a health promoting hospital was launched by the WHO in 1989 at the Rudolfstiftung hospital in Vienna and was run by the late health sociologist Jürgen Pelikan, who passed away in February of this year. Eight sub-projects were realised. For instance, a hygiene team was established to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections and better coordinate the use of antibiotics. A ward was reorganised, and joint meetings for all occupational groups introduced. A patient support team was established, and patients without relatives or friends have been tended to by staff volunteers ever since. They have conversations with them, accompany them to examinations and on walks, and provide personal care services, like assistance with eating.

600 health promoting hospitals

What began in Vienna has grown into the WHO network entitled “Health Promoting Hospitals and Health Services”. It currently comprises 19 national and regional networks as well as around 60 individual members, representing a total of around 600 healthcare institutions on four continents. In Italy, for example, there are active regional networks in six of the 20 provinces.

One of these is Trentino, whose focus is on workplace health promotion and activities for children and young people. “One of our goals is to ensure that children feel safe in hospitals and healthcare facilities, are addressed using child-friendly language, and are provided with spaces for playing and reading wherever possible,” explains Ilaria Simonelli, coordinator of the Trentino region’s network, emphasising: “In order to successfully implement health promotion, it’s crucial that the hospital management is behind it.”

No time for health promotion?

Portrait of Ralph Harlid
Ralph Harlid, Photo: private

This often remains wishful thinking in times of increasing workloads, as there is seemingly no time for health promotion. Sweden is among the countries that have successfully adopted the concept despite this. “In Sweden, 20 of the 21 regions and therefore 85 hospitals and primary care organisations belong to the national network for health promotion in hospitals and healthcare facilities,” says Ralph Harlid, Vice-Chair of the International HPH Network and Coordinator of the Swedish HPH Network.

The latter advocates for such things as a holistic view of health and the importance of health promotion throughout the entire care chain. In addition, the network supports health care organisations in becoming a role model for a good working environment. Workplace health promotion is a key focus at the Krankenhaus der Elisabethinen hospital in Graz as well, which is one of around 70 institutions that make up the Austrian Network of Health Promoting Hospitals and Health Services.

Free activities

The roughly 600 employees can choose from a wide range of free activities offered each year. These include mindfulness training, resilience workshops, swimming and rowing classes and even a day trip to a nature park. “The shortage of staff in the healthcare sector is now making itself felt in our facility, as in all hospitals and healthcare institutions,” says Michaela Drexel, who is responsible for occupational health promotion at the Krankenhaus der Elisabethinen hospital in Graz. “This makes such health measures all the more important, and they serve as a good way of attracting new staff as well.”