To address social determinants of health, make it personal


Posted: September 23, 2019 | Word Count: 589

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social determinants of health (SDoH) — the conditions in which people live, learn, work and play — can affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.

Factors like socioeconomic status, education, physical environment, employment, access to social services and healthcare can result in higher rates of disease and poor or limited access to care. For example, a study in the American Journal of Managed Care conducted by the University of South Florida and WellCare Health Plans found individuals in need of certain social services, including financial assistance for utilities, food programs, housing support, transportation or medication assistance, were 68% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital 30 days following discharge. That number increased to 89% 90 days following discharge.

“It’s difficult to prioritize your health when you don’t have access to healthy food, secure housing or reliable transportation,” said Rhonda Mims, WellCare’s executive vice president and chief public affairs officer. “To improve overall health, it’s critical to identify the issues preventing individuals from getting the care and services they need while connecting them to needed resources to help them live better, healthier lives.”

To address SDoH, WellCare established the Community Connections program, including the Community Connections Help Line (CCHL), a toll-free resource open to the general public that refers callers to social service organizations in their local communities.

To get a better understanding of the most requested needs of callers, WellCare examined more than 100,000 social service referrals made through its Community Connections program in the first half of 2019. The analysis found the top-requested referrals were made for family support services (20%), including prenatal and parenting education, child care, and child welfare-related services, followed by food access (16%), transportation (16%), utilities assistance (11%), medication assistance (7%) and housing (6%). Additionally, research showed the demand for social services is particularly high among the oldest and youngest Americans. One-in-four referrals were for people ages 65 and older and one-in-five were for children.

Overcoming the social and economic factors that negatively impact health is a major societal challenge. However, there are approaches that have been shown to be effective in helping people get the services they need to have a healthier life.

Create open dialogue. People who need social support assistance are often embarrassed to ask for help. An open dialogue, empathy and education can help reduce the stigma many feel about their circumstances and allow them to access available social services.

Make connections. Communities across the country have social support resources available, like free transportation and food programs, and financial assistance to help pay for utilities and housing. The problem often is that people are not aware they exist or may have difficulty making contact with those service organizations. Programs such as WellCare’s Community Connections Help Line can help overcome those obstacles by working with callers to determine what services are needed while connecting them with the right organizations.

Make it personal. People are often more comfortable opening up about their needs to others who have experienced similar circumstances. For that reason, programs that employ community members who personally understand the issues and obstacles facing those needing social service supports can be especially effective in addressing SDoH.

If you or someone you know needs assistance with housing, transportation, food or other social supports, WellCare may be able to help through its Community Connections Help Line. Call 1-866-775-2192 TTY (711) between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, EST, for more information.

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