In “January,” John Updike writes,

“The days are short,
The sun a spark,
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.”

Indeed, the past month has had its share of “the dark and dark” for those of us working to improve the health of those with the most complex needs. For example, on Jan. 27, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to move forward with plans to deny green cards to immigrants who might possibly make even occasional and minor use of public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps or housing vouchers. This policy on “public charge” will cause many individuals and households to forego essential benefits out of fear and confusion about the consequences for their immigration status. Legal challenges to the program will continue to wend their way through the courts as the administration moves forward with implementation.

The same week, the Social Security Administration closed the comment period for its proposed policy to increase the frequency of reviews for individuals who receive Social Security Disability payments, imposing burdensome new requirements. This proposed policy will reduce the number of people who receive disability benefits and will particularly affect older adults and people with disabilities. Our comments, asking the Administration to withdraw these proposed changes, can be found here. Thanks to the many others who also submitted comments on this rule.

But even amidst the dark and dark, we do find a thin spark of sun. I’m particularly proud to highlight our new case studies and findings, developed in partnership with the Health Care Transformation Task Force, that profile three health care organizations that are leaders in embedding patient and family engagement into their work. The case studies lay out the nuts and bolts of what it takes to build meaningful consumer engagement and I hope they will encourage other health care organizations to adopt similar strategies.

We also have just produced two new resources that examine some best practices for identifying and addressing patients’ social needs, such as healthy food or stable housing – an issue brief on programs in North Carolina and Oregon that are working to address social determinants of health through Medicaid, and a two-page resource that can help health advocates identify workable policy solutions and health system levers they can employ in their community.

And finally, I’m thrilled that Becca Telzak, director of health programs at Make the Road New York, received the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize! This prize honors one individual and one organization for outstanding accomplishments in urban public health. Becca has built Make the Road’s health department into a powerhouse that directly serves 8,000 immigrant New Yorkers every year with health insurance enrollment, food stamp enrollment, asthma home visits and more. Please join me in congratulating Becca!