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Payer Awards $2M for Social Determinants of Health, Community Health

The Aetna Foundation's awards will fund community health projects focusing on key social determinants of health such as food insecurity.

social determinants of health

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- The Aetna Foundation has awarded nearly $2.4 million in grant funding to 25 non-profit organizations working to address the social determinants of health.

These grants come as a part of the Aetna Foundation’s Building Healthy Communities initiative, a program that focuses on community health partnerships as a means to address the social determinants of health (SDOH).

The SDOH are lifestyle factors that influence an individual’s ability to attain wellness. Industry experts estimate that only about 30 percent of a person health is influenced by genetic makeup; the rest is determined by social factors such as economic opportunities, housing, food access, educational attainment, and demographic factors.

Access to healthy food is one of the central areas on which the Aetna Foundations focused its grant funding awards this year. Specifically, the Foundation focused on projects that provide food assistance to children and older adult patients.

After all, nearly one in six children experiences food insecurity, the Aetna Foundation reported. Food insecurity in children can stunt development, increase hospitalizations, and impact a child’s performance in school.

One in twelve older adult patients also experience food insecurity, the Foundation said. This can result in increased likelihood for depression and increased healthcare services utilization.

The Aetna Foundation has awarded two grant funding opportunities aimed at closing food access gaps.

The first award, which totals at $174,000, will fund Meals on Wheels America’s efforts to connect senior patients with nutritious food plans. These programs specifically target older adult patients who are at risk for malnutrition following hospital discharge.

The Foundation has also awarded grant funds to address childhood food insecurity. A $225,000 grant to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign will work to provide fully subsidized school breakfasts for 10,000 students in Texas and Florida.

The rest of the Aetna Foundation’s awards focused on supporting community health programs. Specifically, the Foundation awarded $2 million of its grant funding through the Cultivating Health Communities (CHC) initiative. Since 2016, the Aetna Foundation has donated over $6 million through the CHC initiative.

This year, the Foundation’s over $800,000 in award funding focuses on projects developed and hosted by community residents. These projects primarily feature youth leadership and activism, with the ideal goal of empowering youth and young adults in improving the measurable health outcomes of their communities.

“We know there’s no single solution to building a healthy community,” said Karen Lynch, a member of the Board of the Directors for the Aetna Foundation and President of Aetna. “In order to make a real, lasting impact, we must empower the organizations on the ground, who understand the unique needs and challenges of that community, with the tools they need to create and implement local solutions.”

The Aetna Foundation has a long history of health payer philanthropy and engagement with the social determinants of health.

Outside of this specific funding award, community health organizations can receive anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 in funding awards for addressing the social determinants of health, Lynn Ostrowski, Executive Director of the Aetna Foundation, told HealthPayerIntelligence.com in a previous interview.

The Foundation specifically looks for organizations that have strong community partnerships. This signals to Ostrowski and the rest of the Foundation that the organization can organically grow itself into a self-sustaining program.

“We look carefully at who their partners are and how they can carry the project forward and keep it sustainable,” Ostrowski explained

Ultimately, this will help address the unique needs of the specific community population.

“We know that people sometimes can’t gain a job if they don’t have a car or reliable public transportation,” Ostrowski said.

“We also know that if people don’t have access to fresh, affordable produce in their community, then it is hard for them to eat healthy.”

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