Closing Gaps in Healthcare is Hard. Partnerships Can Help.

When we talk about the underserved, we’re talking about real people with real struggles.

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I closed out 2019 by sharing my LinkedIn #BigIdeas2020 thoughts on the importance of providing healthcare to underserved communities in a way that respects and acknowledges human dignity. I’ve been thinking a lot about the role we all have to play in this effort.

When we talk about the underserved, we’re talking about real people with real struggles. High quality healthcare is hard to find in underserved communities – which are often smaller, more isolated rural areas and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods across urban and suburban regions alike. People who live in these areas haven’t always received the care they need, particularly specialty care like mental health services or effective prenatal care.

There are many reasons it’s challenging to serve these communities: physician shortages, rural health facility closures, low reimbursement rates for government-funded care, lack of services and shelter for ever-increasing homeless populations, and inadequate mental healthcare access and funding, to name a few. These challenges are likely familiar to you as they are experienced across the U.S. healthcare system and in every corner of the country.

At Sutter Health we serve every kind of community – urban, suburban and rural– from wealthy neighborhoods to the very poor and everything in between. Our Northern California footprint includes some of the most diverse communities in the nation, and we provide care to more underinsured and uninsured patients than any other health system in our region. Some portion of our service area probably looks like your community.

Valuing the dignity of every person, regardless of their life circumstances or zip code, is particularly important when it comes to healthcare. To help those at greatest risk, we often have to address the personal factors jeopardizing their wellbeing and health, whether it falls within our area of expertise or not.

So how do we tackle the big job of bringing care to underserved areas and helping people out of often difficult circumstances, particularly when their needs falls outside the traditional definition of healthcare? No single organization can solve this challenge alone, which is why some of Sutter’s most groundbreaking work is being done through partnerships at the state and local levels.

Homelessness is a persistent crisis impacting thousands of people in Northern California. To help bring healthcare to people who live on the streets, Sutter has partnered with a local non-profit, WellSpace Health, to implement an award-winning Street Nurse Program that sends nurses out into the community to provide in-person care to the homeless in Sacramento and the northern San Joaquin Valley. From dressing wounds and performing diabetic tests, to personally driving patients to clinics and connecting them with medical services, Sutter and WellSpace have provided critical care – and dignity – to hundreds of peoplesince the program began in 2016.

We know that when people who are homeless find housing, their health improves. Sutter recently collaborated with the city of Vallejo in Northern California and two other local healthcare systems to build a navigation center for the homeless. The Vallejo Navigation Center is expected to serve up to 125 people at one time and serve approximately 500 people annually. It is scheduled to welcome its first clients in 2020 and will be operationally sustainable for the next three years, thanks to the investments of Sutter HealthKaiser Permanente, and NorthBay Healthcare.

And those are just two examples among many. From a new partnership to create a mobile clinic in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, to opening more rural clinics, to agreements with ridesharing company Lyft to transport patients who might otherwise not be able to get to their medical appointment – we have tapped into the enormous potential and value of partnerships to reach patients where they are in life.

I encourage you to take action in your own community. Choose to be an active partner in finding new ways to reach the people among us most in need and offer them the dignity they deserve.

I’d love to hear from you. How will your partnerships help others in 2020? 

Originally published on LinkedIn.com

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