By Stephanye R. Clarke
It’s simple, really— if one wants to be as healthy as possible, three simple steps are:
- Avoid poverty;
- Live in safe, quality, housing in a walkable neighborhood with lots of green space; and
- Have comprehensive, affordable health insurance benefits and regularly access quality, preventive health care services.
Connecticut residents don’t share equal access to health and healthy living conditions, however.
Socioeconomic status, housing conditions, political capital, social support networks and employment all impact population health. According to the World Health Organization, “The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.”
Last week, NPR featured conversations about health, but not in the traditional way we may think—they discussed the impact poverty and subpar housing have on health outcomes.
During the poverty segment, a researcher shared findings that “losing a job increased the odds of developing a new, stress-related health condition by 83 percent.” The same segment featured a married student, who shared that her husband’s $10/hour job is their sole source of income, making it difficult to purchase fresh produce and other healthier food options. Migraines that only came once every couple of months when they both worked were now regular, “my health is deteriorating and I know what the cost of it is, but I can’t fix it.”
Similarly, the housing segment shared much of what we likely know—bad housing = poor health. One mother shared that upon moving into recently-constructed housing in a safer neighborhood, she almost immediately noticed a difference in the family’s health for the better.
Housing advocates and organizations who provide case management services are likely well-aware of the connection between safe, affordable housing and medical adherence and improved health. Having worked in health education at a local public health department for nearly seven years, it has long been my thought that better-coordinated care is the only way to keep individuals, families and communities healthy.
Suggesting that people start a walking club without factoring in the dynamics of that neighborhood—how well the streets are lit (or not), drug activity, sidewalks, etc.—is as pointless as encouraging a patient/client with extremely limited resources to incorporate more fresh produce in their diet, without factoring in their capacity to access and purchase those items.
“When something breaks, it literally takes years to get fixed.” Indeed—and while she may have been discussing sewage and broken ovens, we know this statement is applicable to disconnected ways of managing health care.
Clinical providers, working together with social service providers, health departments and other resources have a unique opportunity to improve population health. On Wednesday, April 29, we’ll host our fourth Reform to Transform forum. The theme is “Getting to Better Health: CONNECTing Care and Community.” We’ll explore and seek to build stronger connections between the social determinants of health and clinical care as a way to improve the health of Connecticut’s residents. This is a chance for all who are engaged in keeping Connecticut healthy to gather and discuss a blueprint for working together.
Please consider this your personal invitation from me, a self-proclaimed “public health geek,” to join us on April 29—you can find more information and register by clicking on the flyer below.