We know that a person’s health is influenced more by their social and economic circumstances than by access to medical services. However, making a real difference for people who struggle with social needs remains a significant challenge.
Hospitals and health systems — working with community partners — can play a key role in this area, and the AHA has developed a number of resources to assist.
The AHA’s Societal Factors that Influence Health Framework can guide hospitals’ strategies to address the social needs of their patients, social determinants of health in their communities and the systemic causes that lead to health inequities. Other tools, including a new resource on how hospitals can address housing insecurity in their communities, are available on AHA’s webpage.
Responding effectively to basic human needs is about partnerships. Experience shows that to have a lasting impact, collaborating with community-based organizations is pivotal. I am inspired by the success stories of hospitals and health systems having a positive effect on our communities.
Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and partners created a cross-sector collaboration that helps people experiencing homelessness. Time invested in building trusted partnerships proved valuable when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Partners came together quickly to prevent spread of the virus, stepping in to help people living in shelters or on the streets. With high unemployment during the pandemic, many people were at higher risk for eviction or living in overcrowded housing.
ProMedica, a health system that serves communities in Ohio and Michigan, has developed a number of programs that address the health needs of its community. ProMedica opened a grocery store to provide access to healthy, affordable food in an area where residents had poor health outcomes and no grocery store nearby. The center that houses the grocery store also offers job training programs, nutrition education, financial coaching and other services — currently online — to the neighborhood.
At my organization, Providence, we recognize that housing is health. This belief has driven investments in our own and other supportive housing programs. It’s a proven model that helps residents remain housed, and also contributes to reducing health care costs. We also make many community benefit investments to reduce food insecurity, help victims of violence and support children’s mental health, to name a few areas.
Working in silos slows our progress toward improving patients’ health and social needs and achieving broad-based health equity. Let’s build trust and collaborate with cross-sector partners, share data and resources, and work together for the greater good. Our reward will be healthier communities where all individuals can reach their best potential for health and well-being.
Rod Hochman, M.D.