How Nonprofits Can Help Address Health Inequities

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Our family and friends, work and education, where we live, and our resources all play an important role in our wellbeing. In order to improve life expectancy across all social levels, it is critical to focus on the social determinants of health.

The seven major determinants of health are family, friends and communities, education and skills, housing, money and resources, work, and surroundings.

Social determinants, which can be consequences of racism, poverty or other social inequities, can have a much larger impact on health outcomes than medical care. One critical area of focus and investment is housing, as it’s been shown that ensuring safe and stable shelter greatly reduce healthcare costs. Finding ways to address problems like unstable housing, inadequate education, poor nutrition and unemployment is vital to improving individual and community outcomes.

The not-for-profit sector plays a vital role in supporting communities and families, promoting work and education and encouraging good health. When nonprofits take action on social determinant issues, they are working in the interest of social justice.

Though health advocacy may not be their main mission focus, non-government organizations in the education and housing sectors, along with those working with people living in poverty, have a critical role in addressing some of the causes of social inequities—and impacting the social determinants of health.

But they need not work in isolation; in fact, a rising and more collaborative model of working for community health improvement also encourages hospitals to see themselves as part of the larger community. Local schools, religious congregations, government agencies, law enforcement, and other nonprofits working in health, employment, and housing are all part of that ecosystem and can work with healthcare systems to improve overall health, thereby improving the community.

A number of tools can provide a foundation for health-equity-promoting, community-based solutions. Since every community is unique, the tools different communities need—and employ–will vary. In some communities, health systems also address a range of other issues, such as utility shutoffs and domestic violence. In others, those issues remain the purview of social services agencies. Community and organizational leaders must work together to identify and address need gaps.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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