Health Center News

Addressing the Social Determinants of Health

As we continue to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Community Health Center Movement it’s important to highlight what has led to the success of movement. This month we’ve been focusing on the health center workforce through blog posts on individuals and groups that contribute to this success. There is something very unique about the health center workforce that has been cultivated over the last five decades from working in underserved communities—a consideration of how barriers to care impact the health of their patients.

“You know better than anybody that health is much more than an interaction in a provider’s office. Health starts where people live, labor, learn, play and pray. That’s what the social determinants of health is all about. And [health centers] got that right from the beginning,” once noted Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, Former HHS Assistant Secretary for Health at a NACHC conference.

From the very beginning health centers have sought to provide comprehensive and culturally competent healthcare, not only by working to address language barriers but also providing services like transportation, nutrition education, fitness classes, and even job training. Health center clinicians regularly reach beyond the walls of an exam room to understand what keeps their patients from leading healthier lives– whether it is lack of nutrition, stress, homelessness or other environmental factors.  Recently, for example, a health center in Massachusetts teamed up with a grocery store to bring healthy food to a community that is a designated a food desert—an urban area lacking access to healthy food—so their patients, especially those with chronic diseases like diabetes, could eat healthier.

Barriers to care are only now beginning to be understood more broadly. In fact, according to a recent NPR article, the Medical College Admissions Test just this year began including a section on psychology and sociology to “make sure the doctors of tomorrow are better prepared to care for an increasingly diverse patient population in a rapidly changing health care system.”

But this is not a new idea for people who work at health centers. The clinicians, nurses, pharmacists and CEOs at health centers know that providing quality care isn’t just about writing prescriptions or handing out medicines, it’s about building trust and relationships with patients. It’s about providing them with a medical home where they can get the care they need and be treated like individuals, with dignity and respect. Health centers are what healthcare should be. Perhaps that’s why nearly 100% of health center patients report being satisfied with the healthcare they receive.

Do you work at a health center that is doing innovative work addressing the social determinants of health? Let us know and we’ll write about it on this blog.