Hospitals find working with diverse businesses strengthens community ties

As the Brooklyn Hospital Center enters the next phase of its $1 billion modernization project, it has laid out some key criteria in seeking a development partner, including a commitment to working with minority- and woman-owned enterprises.

“We are looking for someone who could meet not just our financial and expertise needs but also someone whose mission is aligned with Brooklyn Hospitals,” said Bob Knakal, chairman of New York investment sales at real estate services company JLL, which has been retained to lead the search.

The Fort Greene facilitys construction project involves allocating more than 800,000 square feet for hospital use; six buildings for private development, including affordable housing; medical offices; and nearly 48,000 square feet of retail space.

Serving as a resource for the community requires investing in the long-term viability of the hospital, said Lenny Singletary, senior vice president of external affairs at Brooklyn Hospital. Sourcing local vendors helps establish stable, lasting relationships between the hospital and the neighborhood it serves, he said.

Other health systems have taken note of the role working with MWBEs and local businesses plays in their communities.

“Suppliers and vendors we partner with are also our patients,” said Michael Wright, vice president of diversity and health equity at Northwell Health, the states largest health system, which serves the city, Long Island and Westchester County. “Their economic viability translates to our economic viability.”

The economic benefits of working with MWBE vendors enable better health outcomes too, Wright said. Empowering communities financially allows them to seek better nutrition, care and wellness, he said. Better financial stability improves mental wellness and helps create generally stronger communities, he added.

Brooklyn Hospitals project offers many opportunities to include an MWBE component along every step of the way, from construction to supplies, Singletary said. Even after the buildings are erected, the hospital anticipates continuing to engage MWBE vendors and suppliers as the space is filled, Knakal said.

At Northwell, as the organization grew, it convened a supplier diversity council about four years ago to devise procurement strategies that took diversity and inclusion into consideration, Wright said. The formalized process has helped Northwell deepen its investments in diverse businesses.

Northwell spent more than $92 million in contracts with minority-owned businesses in 2019, a 19% boost from the previous year, according to a report shared with Crains. When it comes to woman-owned businesses, Northwell spent more than $30 million in 2019, 5% more than the previous year. Business categories include construction, medical and surgical suppliers, purchased services, dietary suppliers, nonmedical and nonsurgical supplies and capital projects.

Supporting small businesses and minority-owned ones will be especially critical this year, Wright said.

“The pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color, women and other minority groups,” he said. “They will need our help more than ever.”

Singletary agreed, saying: “Were supporting our communities not because we have to but because its the right thing to do.”


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