Whose social capital matters? The case of U.S. urban public hospital closures and conversions to private ownership

Michelle J Ko, Kathryn Pitkin Derose, Jack Needleman, Ninez A. Ponce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


Prior literature on social capital and health has predominantly focused on health outcomes and individual access to healthcare services. It is not known to what degree, if any, community social capital influences the performance or behaviors of public hospitals, a key source of healthcare for disadvantaged communities in the United States. In this study we developed measures of community bridging social capital - horizontal social networks between heterogeneous groups of similar social position - and linking social capital - vertical networks across the status hierarchy - relevant to public hospitals. We examined associations between social capital, and U.S. urban public hospital closures and conversions to private ownership from 1987 to 2007. We found that higher voting participation was associated with a greater hazard of public hospital closure over time ( p<0.01), whereas the number of business, professional and political organizations per 10,000 residents was associated a greater hazard of conversion ( p<0.05). Additional measures of bridging and linking social capital were not associated with either outcome. Taken together, our findings suggest that, at least historically, horizontal forms of social capital among more privileged groups (e.g., business, professional, and political associations) bear influence on public hospital outcomes. Specific efforts to increase engagement of disadvantaged groups and connect them with decision-makers may be needed to fully realize the potential of linking social capital to influence local healthcare policy promoting social protection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)188-196
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes



  • Closures
  • Privatizations
  • Public hospitals
  • Safety net
  • Social capital
  • United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Medicine(all)

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