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Community health goes well beyond health care (Opinion)

Chris Proctor, MPT, MBA

When we look at our community’s health, there are many other factors that determine a person’s ability to thrive — beyond health care services. Social determinants of health are defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the conditions in places where people live, learn, work and play that affect outcomes for health and quality of life.

These determinants are complex and can be deeply rooted; including income and employment opportunities, housing instability, food insecurity, family and social support, transportation, and adverse life effects.

Studies show that if assistance and support in these categories are provided by a community then each community member’s health and wellness is positively impacted. Lake Tahoe, like many rural communities, face challenges within these categories, especially housing instability and food insecurity.

As defined by Kushel et al in the Journal of Internal Medicine housing instability — the situation of having difficulty paying rent, spending more than half of household income on housing, having to move frequently, living in overcrowded conditions, or needing to cohabitate with friends and family — has a dramatic impact on other social determinants of health. These effects directly and adversely affect the health of all age groups. Researchers have found a direct correlation between housing instability and poor preventative care as well as higher rates of acute emergent care.

Housing instability has been a regional challenge before the pandemic or wildfires, but these types of unanticipated events compound the effect especially on those populations that are most vulnerable. It takes all of us to tackle challenges in our community’s resilience and we are stronger together.

Barton Health observed this while the Attic Thrift Store’s retail operations were on hold due to COVID-19. By working with partners like Bread & Broth and Christmas Cheer All Year, who share our commitment to community health, our teams were able to safely supply those in need with clothes and essential household items, relieving some of the financial stressors that affect social determinants of health like housing insecurity.

Local agencies’ collaboration on housing projects in our community shows the result of galvanizing around social determinants of health, with the Riverside Avenue Project, Ski Run and Pioneer Workforce Housing and Sugar Pine Village. Collectively, we can support community organizations working to take on the complex challenges with housing instability. Tahoe Magic, the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless, the Family Resource Center, St. Joseph Community Land Trust and the Tahoe Prosperity Center are just a few examples of agencies that are dedicated to addressing this struggle for community well-being.

It is with these concerted efforts that we should be able to greatly improve how our community handles housing instability and beyond. Food insecurity … you’re next.

Chris Proctor, MPT, MBA, is the director of community benefit at Barton Health.


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