Addressing Social Determinants through Research, Education and Advocacy

by Barbara Petee Executive Director, The Root Cause Coalition

*REGISTER NOW for the 2nd Annual National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health*

Healthcare institutions are vital not only for individual health, but also for their significant economic impact and contribution to community health. That’s why, in 2015, AARP Foundation and ProMedica, a healthcare organization based in Toledo, Ohio, launched The Root Cause Coalition. We knew from our organizational experience that there was a true need for a member-driven, nonprofit focused on engaging healthcare leaders in cross-sector partnerships to address the social determinants of health.

Since its launch, the Coalition has rapidly grown to 18 cross-sector collaborators who are deeply committed to addressing the social determinants of health – including hunger, housing, transportation, isolation and other issues – through the key areas of education, advocacy and research. As a member-driven coalition, our Inaugural Partners and Members bring their expertise as healthcare providers, insurers, community-based nonprofits, academic institutions, and business leaders to these efforts.

Our mission begins with engaging, facilitating and disseminating research on the social determinants of health to gain a thorough understanding of the impact of food insecurity and other social determinants. Evaluating existing programs is also essential in ensuring that best practices are used throughout the country to achieve desired health outcomes.

Educating members and key stakeholders in the healthcare continuum is essential for the awareness, development and implementation of evidence-based programs that address the social determinants of individual and public health. Through education sessions, webinars and conferences, the Coalition brings to light proven strategies to improve community health outcomes.

Advocacy is the third key part of our mission. As a Coalition, we work together to bring a collective voice for developing and securing passage and implementation of policy that addresses social determinants of health and lowers healthcare costs.

We’ve experienced great momentum in the last year thanks to the commitment of our collaborators who chart the direction of the Coalition. Working together, we identify needs, measure success, and develop intervention strategies and tools at a national level.

In December 2016, The Root Cause Coalition hosted its Inaugural National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health, welcoming more than 400 individuals from across the country to share best practices, offer community connections and resources and engage in crucial discussions to address the social determinants of health; focusing not just on the ‘why’ such action is important, but ‘how’ to develop sustainable solutions. The two-day summit featured guest speakers such as VADM Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, Surgeon General of the United States of America, and Rick Pollack, President and CEO, the American Hospital Association, Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, as well as representatives from the faith community, researchers, clinicians, the non-profit sector, and government programs.

The success and momentum of that event intensifies our gratitude for our partners and colleagues, and fuels our commitment to join them in improving the lives of individuals and communities across the country.  Now, more than ever, it is critical to connect basic needs to overall healthcare. By driving relevant research, teaching proven strategies and their implementation, and advocating for policy issues, we can help ensure that basic needs—human needs—are met.

Barbara Petee is the executive director of The Root Cause Coalition and also serves as the Chief Advocacy and Government Relations Officer for ProMedica, a non-profit health system based in Toledo, Ohio, serving northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Guided by Petee since 2006, ProMedica’s work in addressing hunger as a health issue has been used as a model within the industry and hailed among other NGOs as groundbreaking for health systems. Petee also serves on many local, regional and national boards and committees, including serving as a board member of the Alliance to End Hunger, an affiliate of Bread for the World, based in Washington, D.C.