Recently, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Washington attended the 2023 Western Forum for Migrant and Community Health, hosted by Northwest Regional Primary Care Association. The conference brings together health professionals from migrant and community health centers and allied organizations to educate, share information and build coalitions. It offered several topic tracks, including emerging issues, migratory and seasonal agriculture worker access to care and service delivery, social determinants of health, and diabetes.
Addressing Social Determinants of Health in Underserved Populations
Health outcomes and life expectancy vary widely across cities, towns, ZIP codes and neighborhoods throughout the United States. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, people living just a few blocks apart may have vastly different opportunities to live a long life in part because of their neighborhood.1 It’s estimated that social determinants of health (SDOH) — the conditions in the environments where people live, work and play — influence 80% of health outcomes.2
One conference session, “Experiences Addressing Social Determinants of Health in FQHCs,” sponsored by UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Washington, focused on how community health workers can address SDOH — including housing, food security and employment — that contribute to health disparities.
Community health workers shared positive experiences of helping individuals in Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) environments. Noted challenges included little-to-no housing options, hunger and food insecurity, barriers to accessing health care, medical debt, insurance coverage gaps, language barriers, cultural barriers, and lack of employment opportunities.
As part of this session, we shared a one-page summary of our work with La Casa Hogar, an organization that connects families in Yakima Valley who are Latino with resources and education programs. In anticipation of the upcoming expansion of Apple Health, the Medicaid program serving Washington, we wanted to hear from people who may be newly eligible for Medicaid coverage, including people who did not previously qualify due to their immigration status.
We hosted listening sessions to understand how we can transform the health care system to better support underserved populations. In eight sessions that La Casa Hogar and other organizations hosted with 100 Washingtonians across seven counties, we learned:
- Barriers to care are rooted in SDOH needs.
- Health literacy is a key to better health outcomes.
- Community health clinics and community health workers play a trusted role in improving care access.
Another conference session focusing on SDOH was “Improving Healthcare Experiences of Mesoamerican Indigenous & Marginalized Communities,” sponsored by Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which operates in Washington and Oregon. This session featured recommendations for how to deliver culturally responsive health care that honors cultural values, creates accessibility, and affirms health care preferences for marginalized and Indigenous communities.
Meeting the challenges of SDOH
Understanding the role SDOH play in individual and community health is vital to improving whole-person health. In The Physicians Foundation’s 2022 Survey of America’s Physicians, nearly all physicians who responded indicated their patients’ health outcomes are affected by at least one SDOH, with 54% reporting that SDOH affects the health of many of their patients.3
We are committed to taking care beyond the clinic by addressing SDOH. The conference served as a forum to learn, discuss challenges, and present the work of community workers and organizations dedicated to improving health equity for underserved populations.