WHCC20 | Articles

Paul Sherman, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Community Health Plan of Washington

Individual Health Requires A Broader View of Health Care

As we enter a new decade of the 21st century, health care is increasingly taking its place on political, social, and economic stages across the country. As we grapple with how health care is delivered and funded in this country, we must also recognize that the term "health care" has never been more broadly defined. The intersectionality of physical (including dental) health, behavioral health, and the social determinants of health are no longer in great dispute. At Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW), we believe not only are these all aspects of whole health care, but that we must be part of a strong network of community supports to provide the whole-person health care that patients need to truly achieve their best health.

The effectiveness of community-based care can be seen through the work of Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs, which are far ahead in delivering true whole-person care. I'm consistently amazed by their innovative approaches to treating their neighbors for a variety of conditions, and I'm proud to work with such capable and resourceful community partners.

Unity Care NW in Bellingham, Washington provides a variety of programs under one roof, including integrated behavioral health and dental care as well as group acupuncture, tai chi and yoga for wellness and substance use disorder. There's even a vegetable program to help people manage their diabetes. This is true whole-person care.

By providing numerous programs and treatments designed to the needs of specific populations, these community health centers actually support more people.

Washington's Yakima Neighborhood Health Services (YNHS) is another great example of providing whole-person care by being part of a community coalition. They're building permanent, supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness by converting the old armory into permanent supportive housing for veterans with a YNHS clinic inside. While health services lay the foundation, YNHS goes a step further by building housing to ensure these individuals receive regular case management, which helps them stayed housed. That's a huge difference for Yakima County, considering YNHS patients identifying as homeless went from 2,232 people in 2016 to 3,221 in 2018 - or an increase of 44% in just two years.

At CHPW, we have developed a Community Linkages team that provides care coordination services connecting our members to community resources and services that address the Social Determinants of Health. Referrals to Community Linkages continue to indicate a high need, with 65% of referrals occurring in the areas of transportation, housing, financial assistance and employment assistance. Community Linkages continues to be successful in connecting members to programs and services to address their specific needs: 23% were connected to transportation services, 21% were connected to housing programs and services, and 12% were connected to financial assistance resources.

As the view of health care evolves, it is certain it will only become broader. As health care leaders, we must advocate for this if we are to achieve true, whole-person health. CHPW is both inspired by and built on this community-based approach. In 1992, CHPW was founded as a not-for-profit health plan by a network of community health centers in Washington State. Today, our whole team continues to champion whole-person care by harnessing the power of community.

As FQHCs continue to address multiple areas of an entire patient's health, CHPW has also discovered ways to provide holistic care and resources at both a hyperlocal and state level thanks to community partners. I look forward to a time in the near future where all people experience a broader standard across the country.

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