In June, the executive team of Healthcare Network, supported by our board, raised the minimum wage paid to our employees to $15 an hour from $11.75. The expected annual cost to Healthcare Network will be significant. However, the leadership imperative to influence social determinants of health was what drove this decision.
Healthcare Network, the only Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Collier County, was established to reach the underserved and uninsured in our community. We provide care for populations who often disproportionately suffer from chronic diseases and poorer health outcomes.
The 1,400 Health Centers across the country share the core values of health and social justice. Also, centers understand that poverty is the most pernicious of all diseases. Providing high-quality healthcare is not all we can do to improve the health of our community. In fact, the government created the national health center program more than 50 years ago to address the transportation, economic and sociocultural barriers to accessing care and improve the lives of Americans living in profound poverty.
Healthcare Network has been serving the migrant, rural and underserved Collier County population since 1977. We believe that the health of all of us depends on each of us. To improve health outcomes, we collaborate with local and state governments and social welfare, health and business organizations. We also feel a great responsibility to our employees, who are members of the community we serve.
Social Determinants to Health
Economic stability is one of many social determinants of health. These include education access and quality, healthcare access and quality, neighborhood environments and social and community context. Economic stability determines whether households have access to the conditions necessary to avoid poor health. These include safe neighborhoods, clean water and nutritious foods.
As a health center we have a social responsibility to help reduce health inequities where our employees and patients reside. We have a responsibility to our patients to provide satisfied, highly productive and motivated staff with low turnover.
When our community is healthy, we all benefit. Fewer employees call out sick. Children do not miss as many days of school. Unmet health needs do not impact learning. Workers making a living wage spend money in their communities, and consumer demand results in more jobs.
The Role of Minimum Wage and Health
In 2020, Florida voters voted to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. The current federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour has not been raised since 2009. According to a study in 2019 by the Economic Policy Institute, the federal minimum wage in 2019 had 17% less purchasing power than in 2009, and 31% less than the minimum wage in 1968.
As a result, low-wage earners are falling behind. Because of inflation, they are working for less money and becoming poorer over time, widening income gaps in the country. Rising income inequalities are related to inequalities in health. Low-income families are at greater risk for chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression than people with higher incomes.
Increasing the minimum wage is an important step in reducing poverty and income inequalities that cause poor health. Providing a living wage to our employees will help create a healthier community and lower health costs overall. We also know that there is still a long way to go.
We are proud to be an organization in Southwest Florida with a culture, mission and commitment to better the community, including the lives of our employees.
About the Author
Dr. Emily Ptaszek, is president and chief executive officer of Healthcare Network.