Advancing Health Equity: Changing Health Outcomes
Sometimes, changing health outcomes begins with changing your perspective. Dr. Michael Lane, Board of Directors Chair for Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., remembers a story from several years ago where a team was treating a San Antonio resident who kept returning to the hospital for pneumonia. After the physician and the medical team dug deeper into their patient’s life, they found this woman, a senior citizen, lived in poor housing conditions filled with mold. Mold that was contributing to her frequent trips to the hospital.
Once social services intervened, she was able to improve her living conditions and stay out of the emergency room. This story helped change Dr. Lane’s perspective on healthcare. Rather than looking only at traditional healthcare and health behaviors for solutions to a person’s health, it’s critical to examine people’s social and environmental needs, and ultimately the vital conditions that contribute to an entire community’s health and well-being.
This perspective is important because clinical care and individual health behaviors make up only about 50 percent of the factors that can be altered to improve the length and quality of life of individuals within a community. This means that, even after receiving quality healthcare services through Methodist Healthcare Ministries or another provider and creating healthy habits, such as regularly exercising, there are other social, economic, and physical environmental factors that can negatively or positively impact the health of individuals and entire communities.
These different health factors also often interact with each other. If some factors are impaired, such as living conditions plagued with mold, then other factors, such as the ability to work and attend school, may also be negatively affected. This in-turn may affect family income from one generation to the next, and a chain of other outcomes for generations of families. Because of the many possible interactions among the various health factors, it’s important to not only address individual needs, patient-by-patient and family-by-family, but also be even more proactive by addressing needs from a higher, community-level approach to make a broader impact.
One broader approach is to address the vital community conditions and social determinants of health (SDOH). These can be thought of as the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect health and quality-of-life. The emphasis is on looking at the economic, educational, healthcare, neighborhood, physical, social, and community conditions, place-by-place and community-by-community. When a community’s employment opportunities, water sources, transportation, and other systems adequately serve community members, this increases the entire community’s opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, the reverse is also possible: If a neighboring community’s systems, infrastructure, processes, or policies do not create the necessary conditions for the community to thrive, the entire community’s health and well-being may suffer. This indicates inequities in health and well-being outcomes across places and groups of people. However, communities have the power to address the factors that contribute to these inequities and organizations like Methodist Healthcare Ministries can come alongside to support them.
It is with a deeper understanding of the impact of the social determinants of health and community conditions that Methodist Healthcare Ministries is building upon its 25-year legacy of increasing access to care for the least served. Their new strategic direction is focused on a commitment to advancing health equity which begins with recognizing the inequities inherent in its communities that contribute to poor health outcomes. Health Equity is Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ framework of thought and action that strives to reduce racial and socio-economic disparities and create fair and just opportunities for every person to reach their full potential for health and life and contribute to that of others.
Building Upon our Strengths
Methodist Healthcare Ministries cannot rely on one approach alone to expand its positive impact across South Texas. It must build upon its legacy of high-quality care and services. Ensuring access to care, enhancing community conditions, partnering with communities, and addressing systemic inequities are all essential to advancing health and well-being across communities.
Dr. Lane added, “We have to get everybody to recognize that healthcare is a shared value. We should want everyone to be healthy. How do we get there? We have to collaborate, listen and work together with our communities.”
This has led Methodist Healthcare Ministries to embrace a transformational journey that will go beyond a primary emphasis on access to healthcare services. The shift requires a greater focus on trying to change the community conditions that contribute to disproportionate levels of trauma, sickness, and early death. This work includes identifying root causes and historical legacies that contribute to cycles of intergenerational poverty. Most importantly, it requires building upon the assets that already exist within communities and recognizing community members as the greatest assets among them.
Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ President & CEO, Jaime Wesolowski, said access to care has been and will always be a priority for Methodist Healthcare Ministries, but its new strategic direction will take it even further in serving the community.
“The focus has sharpened to more intentionally advance health equity. We are now working with our communities at a deeper level to focus on social determinants, or gaps that are necessary to overcome to help their communities to thrive,” Wesolowski added.
The new strategic direction will encompass three focus areas: Transforming Internal Processes and Culture, Strengthening Communities, and Impacting Systemic Changes. This provides Methodist Healthcare Ministries with a roadmap of where it wants to go and how it can get there, as it co-creates solutions with patients, clients, and community members.
Learn more about what Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. is doing on its transformative journey through the Advancing Health Equity blog series, which will appear on mhm.org. If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 As described by Healthy County Rankings model.
 Healthy People 2030 Definition—expands upon the MHM/WHO definition by adding “worship” to the list