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Essential Hospitals Celebrate 40 Years as Champions of Safety Net


WASHINGTON—America’s Essential Hospitals this year marks four decades of service as the nation’s foremost champion for hospitals with a mission to care for underrepresented people and create access to care in underserved communities.

The association, based in Washington, D.C., today kicked off a celebration of its founding in 1981 as the National Association of Public Hospitals. It will mark the anniversary online with storytelling by people prominent in the association’s history, an interactive timeline, a video tribute, and other activities throughout the year.

The association, now more than 300 members strong, had modest beginnings as five public hospitals that organized to create a unique voice for hospitals that provide safety-net care. At the behest of the association’s catalyst — Washington lawyer Larry Gage — CEOs from the hospitals met with former Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in summer 1980 to share thoughts on how Congress could better support essential hospitals and their patients. Soon after, the CEOs agreed to form an association, which they did in early 1981, with Gage as its president.

The founding members were Boston City Hospital (now, Boston Medical Center); College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now, University Hospital, Newark); Denver General Hospital (now, Denver Health); District of Columbia (D.C.) General Hospital; and Harris County Hospital District (now, Harris Health, Houston). Former D.C. General CEO Bob Johnson later said the $5,000 in initial dues each founding member paid “turned out to be one of the best investments any of us ever made.”

“For more than a generation, our association has played a pivotal role in policymaking to improve care and equity for marginalized people,” says Susan Ehrlich, MD, MPP, the association’s board chair and CEO of Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. “It is a proud heritage, but an unfinished story. We still have work to do to achieve greater health equity and overcome systemic barriers to care that plague communities of color.”

Among the association’s most significant accomplishments was its first: convincing lawmakers to add language to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 to establish special funding for hospitals that “serve a disproportionate number of low income patients with special needs.” This laid the foundation for Medicaid and Medicare disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments, a vital source of safety-net support. The association also was instrumental in establishing drug discounts for safety-net providers under the 340B Drug Pricing Program.

Along the way, America’s Essential Hospitals built an association infrastructure that today includes a robust research and education component, Essential Hospitals Institute; leadership development programs for rising hospital executives; and various projects and programs to encourage hospitals to share effective strategies and best practices.

“Our hospitals have led the way for all of health care with innovation that comes from the need to do more with less,” says America’s Essential Hospitals President and CEO Bruce Siegel, MD, MPH. “This association has succeeded not only as an advocate but also as a force for better, more equitable care and positive change across the broader health care system.”

The National Association of Public Hospitals (later, the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems) transitioned to America’s Essential Hospitals in 2013 to reflect an evolving membership that includes both public and private nonprofit hospitals, all with a safety-net mission. In addition to that mission, essential hospitals have an extensive teaching role, provide trauma care and other complex services, promote public health and health equity, and coordinate care across providers and community partners.

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About America’s Essential Hospitals
America’s Essential Hospitals is the leading champion for hospitals and health systems dedicated to high-quality care for all, including the most vulnerable. We support our more than 300 members with advocacy, policy development, research, and education. Communities depend on essential hospitals to provide specialized, lifesaving services; train the health care workforce; advance public health and health equity; and coordinate care. Essential hospitals innovate and adapt to lead the way to more effective and efficient care. Learn more at

Carl Graziano



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Dedicated staff at America's Essential Hospitals work together to produce high-quality, reliable content. Please view the about section for more details about staff.

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