In Their Words: Connecting the Dots to Improving Care

March 30, 2017

United Health Foundation is working with its partners to support whole-person care that addresses the social determinants of health, such as nutrition, transportation and housing.

It's no secret that a person's health can be affected by where they live or work, or the types of food they are able to obtain, but did you know there's actually a term for these factors? Access to transportation, good nutrition and a safe home environment are known as social determinants of health.  Organizations like the Preventive Health Collaborative through the Maricopa County Department of Public Health in Arizona are examining these factors, determining the impact these non-health issues have on an individual's health and deploying strategies to make a difference.

"We understand that health is derived from where we live, learn, work, and play. The social determinants of health have a huge bearing on the well-being of our children in our county," says Jeffrey Zetino, supervisor, Preventive Health Collaborative, Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Jeffrey is eager to tackle the challenges social determinants can pose, no matter the difficulties that lie ahead. In South Phoenix, 35 percent of the 52,000 children under the age of 6 are living in poverty. Jeffrey and his team are serving these children and their families by providing preventive health services and addressing specific health areas, like prenatal and newborn services, oral health, nutrition, the need for physical activity and injury prevention, among others.

In Connecticut, an equally challenging issue affecting health care is homelessness. Throughout the state, 40 percent of frequent visitors to emergency rooms are homeless or suffering from housing insecurity. "I don't see a strong enough commitment to addressing the fundamental problems that are contributing to people's lack of housing and poor health," says Jane McNichol, project manager, Partnership for Stronger Communities.

To help tackle this "fundamental problem" United Health Foundation is assisting  Partnership for Stronger Communities to expand its Opening Doors – CT Hospital Initiative and coordinate a network of Community Care Teams (CCTs) in Connecticut hospitals. The CCTs help connect people to housing and other much-needed services, help care providers create flexible and individualized care plans for clients, and enhance ownership of patient care by hospital staff.

From New England to the Midwest to the Southwest, UnitedHealth Group through United Health Foundation is helping its partners connect the dots for individuals to help them get the care they need.