A shoutout to Irving Stackpole for bringing this to our attention today on LinkedIn. This is an important topic that can address the serious issue of poverty in our inner cities.
The topic of food deserts first gained national attention thanks to the efforts of former First Lady, Michelle Obama, who not only created a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, but championed the creation of other gardens in inner city elementary schools.
One in particular was created at a Washington, DC school, and Mrs. Obama invited Chef Robert Irvine of Restaurant: Impossible to cook for inner city school children at Horton’s Kids, a local community center that provides after-school meals for kids.
So an article last week in Managed Care magazine, discussed the three strategies health care systems and payer organizations are trying to address patients’ social needs.
The first strategy, Tackle a neighborhood, focuses on the work ProMedica, a 13-hospital not-for-profit system in Toledo, Ohio is undertaking.
In the UpTown neighborhood of Toledo, the average median household income is less than $21,000 a year, and more than a quarter of all adults have not completed high school. Few residents have homes or vehicles, and healthy food options are hard to come by.
One way they are dealing with the food deficit in the neighborhood is by opening a grocery store called Market on the Green, and is a joint project of ProMedica and the Ebeid Institute.
They also initiated a job-training program, a financial opportunity center, and personal-finance advice and programs.
Last year, ProMedica doubled down and announced a 10-year plan to invest $50 million to create a national model for neighborhood revitalization. In March, they announced a partnership with a New York City-based nonprofit to invest additional capital to spur further economic growth.
Lastly, they expanded their screened 4,000 Medicaid patients who use the food clinic, and found that emergency department utilization decreased by 3%, and 30-day readmission by 53%, with a modest increase in utilization of primary care.
They also expanded screening to include housing, transportation, and other social needs.
The second strategy is Tackle the top problems.
Here, Humana has been working on its Bold Goal, a population health strategy to improve the health of the communities it serves by 20%.
Humana wants to increase the number of “healthy days” in seven markets: Louisville, KY; Knoxville, TN; San Antonio, TX; Broward County, Fl; Baton Rouge, La; New Orleans; and Tampa Bay.
In the first year, the San Antonio market showed a 9% increase in healthy days, which was attributed to several initiatives, namely a telepsychiatry pilot to increase access to behavioral health services, food insecurity screening at primary are offices, and a collaboration with other organizations to improve diabetes management,
Finally, the third strategy is Develop a social determinants workforce.
Trinity Heatlh, a 93-hospital health care system in Michigan, and one of the largest Catholic systems in the country, has been addressing their patients’ social needs through a series of small experiments.
Trinity’s strategy is to develop a cadre of community health workers who will use pathways, regimented, evidence-based multistep protocols to help individuals address their specific needs.
Trinity found that by focusing on patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or both, and assisted by community health workers, they reduced their emergency department and hospital utilization considerably.
Trinity also hired AmeriCorps workers to serve as community health workers in nine markets. They focused on the social determinants of health of a narrow group of patients: high-utilizing eligibles in an ACO or other at-risk contract.
The strategies these organizations are undertaking are bold initiatives that show some promise of success, but time will tell just how successful they will be.
Yet, in an era of huge tax cuts going to the wealthy, and budget cuts eliminating many government programs or severely limiting them, these companies are taking decisive action to reverse decades of neglect and despair in our inner cities.
But they won’t be effective unless there is greater cooperation from the communities they wish to serve, and from the rest of the health care community, and those in other institutions.
There is an accompanying story here: Social Determinants of Health: Stretching Health Care’s Job Description.