I am Tom Wolff, independent consultant with Tom Wolff & Associates. A recent Boston Globe article, “Trials aim to keep recurring patients from hospitalization” by Sabrina Tavernise, described the work of the $10 billion Innovation Center that is part of the Affordable Care Act. As they attempt to manage the most expensive patients the article notes, “They raise a new question for health care systems: What is its role in tackling problems of poverty?” As a community psychologist this is hardly a new notion. That people’s behavior and health is a function of their environment is basic to our field. We are all interdependent and interconnected. However, this premise makes for very complex program development and evaluation question; when we consider the full environment that impacts people’s health (often labeled Social Determinants of Health) we are dealing with a myriad of variables and multiple sectors of the community.
Rad Resource: The New England Racial Justice and Health Equity Collaborative (NERJC) is an action and learning network across 12 communities in three states. These communities are working to promote racial justice and health equity. The goals of the coalitions and programs are to create policy changes to address systemic racism in the social determinants of health (e.g. food access, educational disparities). How does the history of systemic racism in housing, education , transportation impact people’s health? As the brilliant film “Unnatural Causes“ notes, our zip code may be more important for our health than our genetic code. You can learn more about the model NERJC used in this article. Although the link between health disparities and racism may seem obvious, in practice most efforts to address health disparities in the U.S.do not focus on racism. Thus, if they are addressing diabetes rates in Black men they will offer classes on nutrition to Black men, rather than work to change the food desert where Black men reside.
The NERJC meets regularly through the year on a totally unfunded voluntary basis to provide support (both emotional and skill based) to these social justice activists who brings this racial justice perspective to their work in addressing health disparities and reaching for health equity. Creating an ongoing learning environment where participants can gain new techniques to take back to their communities which will lead to creating changes in local programs, policies and practices consistent with a racial justice perspective
Lesson Learned: As a white man who has experienced all the benefits of white privilege I have felt a responsibility to help the NERJC start up, and thrive and survive. I see our work on this frontier as an example of community engaged scholarship. What do you think? What can you do?
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