Understanding communities key to improving health of San Francisco

Improving the health of a community or city is much like improving the health of an individual. You need to provide effective treatment for any illnesses, but first you need to accurately understand the problems. And if you can head off illness through preventative care, the patient will be the better for it.

That’s exactly what we at the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership are trying to do. We are a diverse collection of health care professionals, hospital leaders, community leaders and policymakers who are trying to ensure that San Franciscans in all neighborhoods enjoy good health.

And to do that, we’re looking at the challenges our people face — the key factors that make them healthy or sick — in new ways. We conducted the SFHIP Community Health Needs Assessment, a comprehensive look into the health of San Franciscans that began last year, which identified income as the single greatest predictor of health for local residents.

The assessment found that higher-income residents have greater access to resources that promote health — like good schools, quality health care, healthy food, safe neighborhoods and time for self-care, while avoiding health hazards like air pollution, violence and poor quality housing.

Conversely, lower income residents have less access to these health-promoting resources and are much more likely to be exposed to these same hazards.

What’s more, income inequality tracks along racial lines — with the median annual income for white households in San Francisco at $100,000, while the median for African-American households is only $30,000. It’s not surprising, then, that African-American San Franciscans have the highest rates of acute and chronic disease, and that other communities of color experience similar barriers to health care.

Chronic health issues can make it hard to secure and hold a job, and, for kids, poor health can seriously interfere with and even sidetrack their education. So by tearing down the obstacles to health care for our city’s low-income residents — which is what SFHIP aims to do — we stand a much greater chance of improving the well-being of San Franciscans overall.

To do this, SFHIP is developing its Strategic Priorities Plan as a companion to Community Health Needs Assessment. Think of it as first diagnosing the patient, and then treating the patient.

We’ve identified what truly stands in the way of healthy communities, and now we can help our city develop policies and practices that encourage, rather than undermine, public health.

The Strategic Priorities Plan will detail goals, objectives and strategies for our health care challenges. This means finding real-world solutions to psycho-social health issues, healthy eating/physical activity and reducing substance abuse — all while eliminating health disparities and inequalities.

Healthy residents are at the core of a healthy city, and by ensuring that each and every resident has equal opportunity to good health, we can build a more resilient and thriving San Francisco.

Estela Garcia, DMH, and Abbie Yant, RN, MA, are co-chairs of San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership. The San Francisco Community Health Assessment is presented today at the SFHIP annual breakfast. For more information, visit www.SFHIP.org.

Abbie YantEstela GarciaSan Francisco Health Improvement PartnershipSFHIPSFHIP Community Health Needs Assessment

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