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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Sustainable Corporate Social Responsibility

Published December 1, 2014 8:54 AM by Guest Blogger

By Susan Salka, President and CEO, AMN Healthcare

Most public companies dedicate some resources to good corporate citizenship. They choose to spend these resources - time, money or both -- on endeavors aligned with the company's mission and goals in win-win situations. It's all part of a company's social responsibility. But I believe we need to take it one important step further and create sustainable CSR programs.

There are times when it is absolutely appropriate and necessary to provide support to alleviate a short-term situation. When natural disasters or personal tragedies hit, people need immediate assistance to survive and rebuild their lives. And who can argue the benefit of brightening the day of a child enduring cancer treatment at a local hospital? But in addition to these endeavors, a significant amount of time, energy and resources expended by a company and its team members should be focused on activities that result in an enduring, tangible benefit, one that builds upon its own past achievements.

The most meaningful and lasting CSR initiatives are built around the active participation of company team members. I personally encourage our team to be active at work, active in their lives and active in the community. And they've responded. We have very committed [and] purposeful people who avidly take part in our many CSR projects. So, to honor that high level of engagement, it behooves company leadership -- and me personally -- to make sure that the causes we support make meaningful and, ideally, lasting change out there.

Last year, AMN Healthcare developed a partnership with a charitable institution on the mission of a lifetime, one that effectively aligns with our business strengths, provides powerful opportunities for team engagement and results in vital and sustainable improvement in the lives of people who really need help.

The organization is HELPS International, a Dallas-based nonprofit founded by a former investment banker, whose mission is to provide integrated, long-range solutions for Central American communities in need. HELPS sends several mission trips each year to the same regions of Guatemala, with carefully designed programs that build upon successes from the prior year. As a healthcare staffing and workforce solutions company, AMN sponsored 10 clinicians for the week-long medical mission and 10 nonclinical volunteers from our staff to take part in a correlated community development project. 

As background, the highlands of Guatemala are an impoverished area with incredibly scarce medical resources. People often live in dirt-floor shacks and cook over open fires with no ventilation. The HELPS medical mission included an acute-care mobile hospital where medical professionals saw about 500 patients, many with chronic respiratory and eye diseases and/or burns from the open fires, and hernias due to carrying large amounts of wood. The community development team installed safety stoves that vent toxic smoke out of homes, use 70% less wood and reduce the incidence of burns from children falling into open cook fires. For more information visit https://helpsintl.org/.

For AMN, sustainability must be more than a buzzword; it has to be a palpable achievement. For example, the HELPS hospital and clinic created a portable health records system so that families have accurate medical charts covering many years of treatment. Continuity in treatment improves long-term patient outcomes. The stoves program reduces diseases; prevents burns; helps alleviate the heavy burdens people must carry and provides families more time to create wealth. In addition, HELPS integrates an education program for indigenous children and an economic development program to help small-hold farmers increase corn yield so they can feed their families and sell extra production for cash.

This sustainable CSR opportunity enhances the quality of our company and our entire team by fostering meaningful engagement in the world around us. Every team member who volunteered for the Guatemala mission told me it was a life-changing opportunity. Those who went came back and told colleagues amazing stories -- and showed them even more amazing pictures - of how they made worthwhile, lasting improvements in people's lives. The team engagement success of this mission is itself sustainable, its long-term value transcending the company outlay to sponsor the volunteers. The mission spreads pride throughout the company for the achievement of this year's volunteers and, looking forward, is building team enthusiasm to take part in what will become an annual mission. In addition, we were recognized by our industry association with its top award for corporate social responsibility.

The HELPS mission has quickly become the centerpiece of our CSR activities. We still support many other very important causes locally and nationwide, particularly those that involve health and wellness. But by embracing true sustainability as our principal CSR objective, we have created a partnership that manifests the character of our company and our team and ensures that our investment of resources results in meaningful achievement. I challenge every company to examine their CSR efforts to ensure they have appropriate focus on the sustainability of their activities. 

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