What are Social Determinants of Health and why should you care?
By Cindy Stickel RN, BA, CCM / Faith Community Nurse, Penrose-St. Francis-Mission Outreach
The Colorado Trust (http://www.coloradotrust.org/) defines Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) as “factors that can either positively or negatively impact the ability for all Coloradans to lead healthy, productive lives…important aspects that influence overall health.”
The World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/en/) describes SDOH as “circumstances into which people are born, live, work, and age; and the systems put in place to deal with illness…”
Simply stated, SDOH are those social factors that affect health and the ability to be healthy.
You are affected by SDOH, either in a positive or negative way. For example, studies show that health tends to follow class systems: the higher the social position, the better the health.
60% of your health is determined by your behavior, environment, and social status. That is followed by 20% genetics and 20% healthcare access.
What are some of the Social Determinants of Health that impact your overall wellbeing?
- Your biology and genes: health challenges or advantages
- Personal health practices and coping skills: your ability to make choices that prevent disease
- Your income and social status: strong relationship between your health and your social standing
- Your education and literacy: highest level of education and ability to read affects your health
- Your gender: demands that society puts on different genders and sexual orientation
- Your access to healthcare
- Food stability and your access to nutritious foods
- Employment/working conditions: job security, safety, job benefits
- Social environments: social support from your family/friends, church or faith community
- Spiritual support: Whole wellness includes your mind, body, and spirit. Many health issues stem from a lack of spiritual support like loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, fear.
- Your physical environment: stable and safe housing, transportation, air and water quality, neighborhoods; studies have shown an enormous impact on health: The average life expectancy in the homeless population is 42-52 years compared to 78 in the general population…a 30-year discrepancy!
- Healthy child development: your early experiences affect brain development and school readiness – which carries into adulthood.
- Your culture: language barriers, access to culturally appropriate healthcare and services
Last year, the Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurses conducted a study, looking at what social factors affect clients’ health. After meeting with visitors at the Neighborhood Nurse Center at Tri-Lakes Cares, the results were troubling:
- 52% had no income or were living on a fixed income, such as social security or disability
- 71% had food insecurity (reported times of not having enough food to eat)
- 45% lacked consistent transportation resources
- 40% lacked access to a primary health care provider
As you can see, our clients noted being significantly impacted by several SDOH, including jobs/income, access to food, transportation, and healthcare.
This is surprising data, but what can we do in response?
Well, first and foremost, Faith Community Nurses cannot solve these issues alone. We collaborate with local community service organizations, like Tri-Lakes Cares, and work as a team. This partnership brings together diverse services under one roof for the underserved people living in northern El Paso County, who often don’t have access to services in Colorado Springs. It takes community partnerships to address the effects that social factors play on our neighbors’ health.
Understanding and addressing SDOH is essential to provide equitable, effective, and high quality holistic care to those we serve.
At Tri-Lakes Cares, we’ve created and improved programs to reduce poverty and factors leading to crisis. We provide a hand up during a crisis, and increase access to resources like food, clothing, housing, and transportation.
Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurses at Tri-Lakes Cares serve as part of this team. We strive to improve medical services, coordinate access to healthcare, including medical, dental, mental health, and provide emotional and spiritual support – focusing on community wellness.
Together, we provide a holistic model of health, addressing the various levels of need: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual!
As a team we refer clients to appropriate resources depending on particular needs, using staff and volunteer strengths and expertise. For example, a client may come in for food from the pantry, but a thorough assessment by the case managers and/or the nurse results in them leaving with much more, like prescription assistance, access to medical care, utility or rent assistance.
Every client we see, we ask the question, ‘How can we help?’ And ‘How can we as a community team address the needs today and plan for the future?’ in order to positively affect the wellbeing of our clients, and thus, improve their ability to be healthier and stronger.
That is the ultimate goal as we think about Social Determinants of Health.
ABOUT CINDY STICKEL
Cindy Stickel is a Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurse who staffs the Neighborhood Nurse Center at Tri-Lakes Cares in Monument. She is part of a team of six Faith Community Nurses who are assigned to community service agencies throughout El Paso County, bringing the Centura Mission to life in the community by encouraging health and healing, advocating for the most vulnerable, building relationships with neighbors in the community, reaching out and listening to those who are hurting, and creating hope.