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Focus on Social Determinants of Health, Health Equity Grows

Millions of dollars are being funneled into programs to address the social determinants of health and health equity.

social determinants of health health equity

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- University medical and public health schools are investing in community health groups working to address issues of health equity and the social determinants of health.

At the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and Michigan Medicine’s Department of Community Health Services, these investments are worth millions of dollars and focus on partnerships that meet underserved groups.

The Wisconsin Partnership Program, which is a part of the School of Medicine and Public Health, recently announced $4 million in community health funding. These awards aim to support community organizations working to break down barriers to care, address patients’ social needs, and overcome institutional issues such as racism or poverty.

Awards to Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, Nehemiah Community Development Corporation, Inc., Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA), and Employ Milwaukee will each total at $1 million. The groups received these grants as a part of the Partnership Program’s Community Impact Grant program.

At Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, community health workers will chip away at housing instability issues that impact the center’s members, most of whom are Latino and live below the federal poverty level.

Homelessness, alongside racial and socioeconomic determinants, are key barriers to good health and wellness. This program aims to better understand patient challenges and build a model promoting preventive care and data sharing.

Nehemia Community Development Corporate will work to address systemic and cultural racism that impact African Americans. Social and community factors that affect black patients more than white patients tend to lead to poorer health outcomes for black patients. Nehemia will work to bolster its community engagement programs to break down these barriers.

STFA will implement better education standards to empower the youth and ideally develop more engaged citizens and patients. Specifically, the group plans to look at the social factors that precede expulsion. In addressing those factors, STFA can build targeted programs, keep children in school, and address education as a social determinant of health.

Finally, Employ Milwaukee will use its grant funding to address the impacts incarceration has on social engagement and employment for those who have lived within the criminal justice system. The group plans to reinforce its re-entry program for previous incarcerated individuals, helping to connect those individuals with jobs and other key social supports.

Michigan Medicine is also making moves to address the social determinants of health. The school recently announced $7.2 million in grant funding to address health equity.

The funding will go toward 26 community health groups based in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Patients living in this area experience considerable health inequity deeply rooted in the social determinants of health.

Michigan Medicine designed this funding project based off results from its community health needs assessment (CHNA) that it conducted as a part of its tax-exempt non-profit status. These assessments are important for hospitals to understand the unique needs of their patient populations and for creating targeted community interventions.

U-M completed its CHNA in partnership with Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor and Chelsea because they serve several of the same patients.

Through the assessment, U-M identified key needs in mental health, substance use disorder, obesity and other illnesses, and pre-conceptual and perinatal health.

U-M issued grants to 17 organizations addressing mental health and substance use disorder, two programs targeting obesity and healthy eating, three groups working on improve pre-conceptual and perinatal health, and four programs aimed at addressing and understanding other social determinants of health.

More and more industry leaders are funneling resources into community health and the social determinants of health. These upstream factors can significantly influence a patient’s ability to be healthy. As healthcare continues its work toward more value-based care, adopting strategies to address the social determinants of health will be critical to achieving overall patient wellness.

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