Good health is precious. Access to high quality, affordable and culturally sensitive health care is something that we all deserve--regardless of income or family circumstance. However, access to health care is not enough to guarantee our health. In fact, research shows that access to health care only accounts for around 20% of health outcomes. The other 80%--the bulk of what makes us healthy, or unhealthy--is shaped by the social, cultural, economic and physical environments and realities of our daily lives. Health care access is vitally important and should go hand in hand with efforts to ensure that we secure the right to good health by improving the places where we live, work, and play in order to support health and safety in the first place.
When a pedestrian is hit by a car while crossing an unsafe street, they have a right to be promptly taken to a state-of-the art hospital and receive the highest quality of care, without the fear that medical bills will bankrupt their family. Even better, though, would be for the streets in that pedestrian's community to be made safer for walkers and bicyclists, reducing the likelihood of crashes occurring, and thus preventing injury and the need for medical care in the first place. Not all communities are created equal, however, and some community environments are much more supportive of health and safety than others, often based on the socio-economic status of the inhabitants. Research done by the Alameda County Department of Public Health has shown that a child growing up in the affluent neighborhoods of the Oakland hills can expect to live 15 years longer than a child growing up in the lower-income "flat land" neighborhoods in the city. This disparity in life expectancy is a stark reminder that inequities in the social, environmental, and economic conditions have a profound impact on our health, and even longevity.
Health providers and clinical institutions play an essential role in securing our good health--not just by providing high quality and affordable care, but also in addressing the underlying causes of poor health and inequities in their communities. When faced with multiple children showing up at a community clinic with very similar symptoms, providers not only have the opportunity to treat each individual child but also to ask their patients and themselves: Why are these conditions occurring so frequently? What are the potential underlying causes? A doctor might find that these children all live in a nearby low-income housing development with substandard housing conditions. Equipped with this information, the course of treatment broadens and can also include partnerships with local housing rights activists and legal aid organizations in order to improve local housing. This revised course of action not only treats the individual symptoms, but also prevents the underlying cause in the first place. Such was the case for St. John's Well Child and Family Center, a federally qualified community health center in Los Angeles--just one of the many ways that community health centers can both provide high-quality medical care, while supporting community prevention and health equity.
In order to capture existing innovative successes bridging clinical care and prevention in the community as a whole, Prevention Institute has developed the concept of a Community Centered Health Home (CCHH). By integrating clinical service delivery with community prevention, communities are able to reduce demand for resources and services; improve health, safety, and equity outcomes; and provide medical providers with skills and strategies to change the social circumstances that shape the health of their patients. To learn more about how your community can advance health equity using this model, join us for a webinar on Thursday, May 10th from 11:00am - 12:30pm PST. This will be a unique opportunity to learn more about this approach and hear from those that are doing this work in their communities.
Health care providers have a unique opportunity to treat those that are already sick or injured while also using their expertise and authority to build environments that prevent illness, injury and inequity in the first place. This work will help move our country closer to a vision of health--not just health care--as a basic human right.
 University of Wisconsin, County Health Rankings 2012