Denver Health Foundation’s Springboard Series Promotes Economic Mobility as a Cornerstone of Health and Well-being
June 8, 2022
The Denver Health Foundation held a virtual panel discussion Tuesday, May 31, about the importance of financial self-sufficiency to the health of individuals, families, and the community, along with the role businesses, government, and philanthropy can play to help advance the community’s health and well-being.
Panelists were Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock; Operation Hope Founder, Chairman, and CEO John Hope Bryant; and Denver Health CEO Robin D. Wittenstein. Denver Health Foundation Executive Director Crystal Potter Rivera welcomed guests to the virtual event.
Wittenstein began the conversation by noting that a person’s social risk factors, such as financial stress and lack of access to education, transportation, and safe housing, lead to increased health issues. In fact, about 80% of a person’s health “has nothing to do with the clinical care that’s provided,” she said.
“I sometimes look in the mirror and say, ‘I don’t know how these problems can be solved,’ but I also know we can’t give up because people are depending on all of us,” she said to Hancock, who is entering his 12th and final year as Denver’s mayor.
Hancock, who is known for his equity-focused approach to governance, said many city-wide issues—such as homelessness, housing costs, depressed wages, and crime—are complex and deeply layered, with many contributing factors.
“Oftentimes, our constituents expect us to wave a magic wand and implement one solution to solve the problem,” Hancock said. “We’ve got to peel back the layers. We’ve got to keep asking a lot of questions to get to the solution.”
Denver Health is peeling those layers, rather than just treating the symptoms when they present at the doctor’s office.
Wittenstein explained, “Denver Health is not only a safety net institution that is designed to care for the most vulnerable patients in our community but has really embraced the idea of being an anchor institution—of addressing both the need for expanding access to care, but equally important, dealing with the root causes of health, and one of those root causes is very significantly related to economic problems.”
Bryant, who has been called the “conscience of capitalism” by several Fortune 500 CEOs, then entered the conversation. As the founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation Hope—the nation’s largest, nonprofit, best-in-class provider of financial literacy training and education—he is a prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment, and financial dignity.
Bryant shared that there is a difference between being “broke,” which is an economic issue, and being “poor,” which he described as a “disabled frame of mind and a depressed condition of your spirit.”
“Success is a habit and it’s also a culture,” he said. “If you hang around nine broke people, you’ll be the 10th. The opposite is also true.”
The biggest contribution to the cycle of poverty, aside from basic needs like food, shelter, transportation, and health care, is a negative mindset, Bryant said, which affects a person’s mental and physical health.
“The most powerful, most eroding type of poverty is the one that ends with you having no hope. A person with no hope is the most dangerous person in the world.”
Hancock agreed, saying his first question when looking at any community with high murder statistics, is, “What is the economic condition of that community?” “Ultimately, that will tell you where the unhealthiness exists, and where there is a lack of hope,” he said.
Operation Hope is unveiling new research that validates the connection among mindset, poverty, and health—by analyzing average credit scores clustered within geographic regions.
“The data now shows that your hopelessness, or the ability to overcome that, permeates everywhere—into your health, your wellness, your attitude, your depression or lack thereof—and then translates into [rates of] GDP, job creation, small business creation, entrepreneurship, and homeownership,” Bryant shared. “If you look at your crime data, your single parent household data, your educational data, your homicide data, you’re going to find most of your problems are [in zip codes with lower average credit scores], and it’s not because these are bad people. These are good people, but you model what you see.”
“There is absolutely a relationship between and among these things,” Wittenstein remarked. She then shared that Denver Health is addressing financial inequity through its new Workforce Development Center, which provides financial literacy counseling, career development pathways, continuing education and credentialing, and small loan programs to the organization’s lowest earning employees.
“We have adopted this perspective on our role as being a vehicle of giving hope to people through economic empowerment, economic opportunity, and economic mobility, and we’re starting with our own employees,” she said, adding that people sometimes say it isn’t Denver Health’s place to get involved in the community’s socioeconomic issues.
“I argue that that is exactly what we’re here to do—to improve the health and well-being of the people we serve—and if it’s by helping them be more economically secure, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Wittenstein said. “We have got to find a way to give people a better future for themselves and their children.”
Hancock lauded Wittenstein’s commitment and leadership.
“Greatness comes from being able to permeate your mission and to make your mission come to life,” he said. “And when you ask questions like, ‘How can we more effectively help those who are experiencing homelessness in our city?,’ you are elevating your mission and its purpose as a giant in the community, and that, to me, is powerful.”
Bryant echoed those sentiments.
“I think it’s rather short-sighted for people to say this is not your mission,” he said. “Your financial health is directly tied to your spiritual and emotional health, or lack thereof. Most people in this country are living from paycheck to paycheck. That stress permeates and seeps into your psyche.”
Operation Hope, he said, is empowering communities to move from a survival mindset to a thriving and winning mentality.
“This informs your health. And if you don’t do this, it informs your depression. It is bad for everybody. I’m convinced that financial literacy is the civil rights issue of this generation. And I believe that financial well-being is the new health care.”
Wittenstein asked, “If financial hope for the future really is the answer for so many of the problems that we seem to face as a society, how do we get everybody to be part of this?”
Bryant said we’re heading in that direction, with many corporations embedding financial literacy into their business plans, as well as investing a record $52 billion in social justice commitments in the month following George Floyd’s murder. He said this indicates that companies are “starting to realize that you can do well and do good, too. These things are not mutually exclusive; your brand is important to your profitability and people want to work in a place where they know that the company actually cares.”
“Providing people with a sense of hope for the future is what will change the conversation that we’re having,” Wittenstein concluded. “It’s what will give people the opportunity to participate in our society in a way that is good for them and for all of us.”
The free webinar was part of the Foundation’s Springboard Series—a virtual thought-leadership event where community and business leaders, philanthropists, and Denver Health experts discuss health, economic, and social solutions to issues surrounding access to care and the root causes of health.
View the recording from this and previous sessions on the Denver Health Foundation’s Springboard Series web page.