While it may not have made the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s list of new words this year (see, e.g., “swole,” “peak,” “snowflake”), the phrase “social determinants of health” is certainly trending. Funders, policymakers, health care providers, diverse sectors from housing to climate change groups, and the media are paying more attention to this basic premise: where we live influences our health. Community Catalyst’s work on social determinants is longstanding, and is an essential component of the framework needed to build a just health care system that works for everyone. Here are five ways we’re going deeper in 2019.

#1 – We’re grounding our social determinants work in pursuit of racial justice and equity.

Our nation as a whole is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, yet many neighborhoods and schools are approaching or surpassing levels of racial segregation not seen since the 1960s. Integrating the social determinants of health into our work is part of our pathway for disrupting and mitigating the health impacts of de facto segregation, disenfranchisement and disinvestment in basic services like housing, food, transportation and education in many communities of color. As a national health advocacy organization, we’ve already seen how our knowledge of the health care system and policymaking can be helpful to community-based organizations, service providers, and other groups seeking to draw a tighter line between their local health care systems and community needs. But there is more, and deeper, work that the heath care advocacy movement needs to do — particularly white-led organizations like Community Catalyst — if we want to see true healing and racial justice in our neighborhoods. This year, we’ll continue to diversify our partners and staff, deepen our internal competencies around race and race equity, and embrace practices that intentionally center policymaking and advocacy around the communities most impacted by racism.  

#2 – We’re developing policy resources to help ensure social determinants policies support community priorities and patient needs.

Community Catalyst has long supported a holistic approach to health and well-being, both within and beyond the clinical setting. At the same time, we’ve already witnessed how social determinants rationales and language can be coopted to disguise ineffective, harmful policy proposals that redirect critical funding and erect barriers to key services (Exhibit A: the Trump Administration’s effort to recast Medicaid work requirements as an economic boon for poor people). Community Catalyst’s Social Determinants Policy Principles will aid policymakers, advocates, and thought leaders in evaluating health care policy proposals that purport to address the social determinants of health to make sure they do right by communities and patients — not just payers and providers — and uphold our values. (Don’t forget: We’ve got existing SDOH Resources here.)

#3 – We’re putting our money where our mouth is.

We’re launching several projects this year that will support grassroots organizing to move local and state health policies to address social determinants. First up to bat is the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation’s (the Center) May launch of the Consumer Voices for Innovation 2.0 Project. Supported by both the Center and our Health Justice Fund, this initiative will invest $1.4 million directly into grassroots organizing efforts in seven states to enhance the ability of the health system to address the social determinants of health, with a specific focus on food security, housing security and/or transportation, in seven states.

#4 – We’re working with community residents and leaders interested in building capacity to address social determinants of health at the local level.

We’ll be on the road in 2019 working with local health care systems, multi-sector coalitions, and community leaders interested in deepening residents’ advocacy, organizing, and negotiating skills through our Social Determinants of Health and Engaging for Equity trainings. (Interested in learning more about these trainings? Let us know!!)

#5 – We’re deepening key relationships with other sectors.

We’re fortunate to already have deep relationships with many health care and multi-issue organizations. As our work moves forward, we’ll seek opportunities to foster shared learning and diversify our networks, and to identify common priorities with organizations in the housing, community development, food and transportation sectors.

Stay tuned for more information! And, give a shout to let us know what you’re up to!