Addressing the Social Determinants of Health

Health and wellness is so much more than going to the doctor or getting prescriptions filled. If individuals and families leave the physician’s office and return home to environments that don’t promote or sustain healthy behaviors, treating diseases like asthma, depression or heart disease can become difficult or even impossible. The social determinants of health influence everything else in our health care system. According to HealthyPeople2020.gov, these determinants include:

  • Availability of resources to meet daily needs (e.g., safe housing and local food markets)
  • Access to educational, economic, and job opportunities
  • Access to health care services
  • Quality of education and job training
  • Availability of community-based resources in support of community living and opportunities for recreational and leisure-time activities
  • Transportation options
  • Public safety
  • Social support
  • Social norms and attitudes (e.g., discrimination, racism, and distrust of government)
  • Exposure to crime, violence, and social disorder (e.g., presence of trash and lack of cooperation in a community)
  • Socioeconomic conditions (e.g., concentrated poverty and the stressful conditions that accompany it)
  • Residential segregation
  • Language/Literacy
  • Access to mass media and emerging technologies (e.g., cell phones, the Internet, and social media)
  • Culture

Wheeler takes a leadership role in working to address these broad determinants of health through advocacy, leadership at the state level, an integrated approach to health care, and a dedicated team of Community Health Outreach Workers in our communities.

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Since 2014, Wheeler expanded its outreach team, including a Bristol- and New-Britain-based community health outreach worker supported by a unique collaboration between Wheeler and Mott Corporation of Farmington in 2016. With the support of The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Department of Social Services and the Office of Health Strategy, and in partnership with organizations like the Hispanic Health Council, and others, this fall, Wheeler’s team grew to better serve the whole-health needs of individuals and families in New Britain, Bristol, and Hartford. Five new workers provide an array of services and resources for individuals and communities.

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Services connect individuals and families with resources like safe housing, application assistance for SNAP, Medicaid, and other assistance programs, and help with the application process for disability benefits. New partnerships with organizations, such as the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association in Hartford and the North Hartford Promise Zone, also are under way. The Wheeler/Mott Corporation partnership continues to promote community health and wellness and engage underserved individuals and families in Bristol and New Britain in accessing primary and behavioral health care information and services at Wheeler’s Family Health & Wellness Centers in New Britain and Bristol.

Supporting the Wheeler Community Health Outreach Team are our donors, who have generously created and fund our Basic Needs Fund, which addresses a range of environmental and social factors that interfere with a patient’s health and well-being, but are not addressed by other means of funding.

Fully addressing the social determinants of health requires a societal and community focus, as well as time and systemic change. Through Wheeler’s work, we’re making Connecticut communities healthier, more equitable, and better able to address the larger factors that affect health.

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