Reviews | We need to reimagine how to address persistent health inequities in DC

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Tonia Wellons is President and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

A recently created $95 million health equity fund has the potential to help reshape how DC addresses its longstanding health inequalities. Some might believe that the best investment would be to support organizations providing direct services to people dealing with diabetes, hypertension, covid-19, maternal and child mortality, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, food insecurity, gun violence and the many other issues that disproportionately affect people of color in our city. These challenges absolutely deserve our community’s attention and funding.

The Greater Washington Community Foundation and the Health Equity Committee that administers the Health Equity Fund decided to focus on root causes and early interventions. Given that 80% of DC’s health outcomes are determined by social, economic and other factors, and only 20% by clinical care, we plan to deploy all of the fund’s resources into projects that disrupt more traditional approaches to health. social change with the ultimate goal of helping close intolerable racial inequalities in health and wealth. In other words, instead of putting a band-aid on these issues, we’re going to focus on why people bleed in the first place.

The Health Equity Fund was created last year with resources from a settlement between the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking; Group Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc. (a subsidiary of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield); and the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

One of the largest funds of any kind focused on community-based nonprofits that serve DC residents, the fund is also the largest company in the Community Foundation’s nearly 50-year history.

This month, the Community Foundation released its first competitive request for proposals for grants. Recognizing that health and wealth are inextricably linked, this first round of $10 million grants to 40 organizations will boldly invest in economic mobility and wealth creation in DC’s historically underserved communities. Future funding will be dedicated to policy advocacy, community anchoring and multi-sectoral partnerships with hospitals and health systems, and behavioral and trauma-informed health care systems.

If you’re a nonprofit working to address these issues, we want to hear from you. We particularly seek to support disruptive system change strategies that improve the prospects of Black, Latinx or Indigenous people of color and other marginalized populations. Let me share several examples of what I mean by disruptive system change strategies.

Thirty years ago, the approach used to address chronic homelessness by service agencies and government – and adopted by funders – was to require homeless residents to prove they were ” housing loans. This involved meeting certain conditions, such as sobriety or treatment, as a prerequisite for housing. But these demands have often pushed those same people homeless onto the streets. Recognizing this disturbing trend, a non-profit organization began asking homeless residents what they or they necessary. The answer: a safe and stable place to live. Thus, the innovative Housing First model was born. Unlike the traditional approach, Housing First does not require treatment or sobriety before moving clients into permanent supportive housing. Housing First providers offer clients, but do not require clients to accept, support services tailored to individual needs and goals, knowing that these services are most effective when clients voluntarily choose them. Housing First has become the accepted norm in our region, across the country, and in other parts of the world, and one that the Community Foundation has long supported, including through the Partnership to End Abuse. roaming. Housing First’s results speak louder than words: permanent supportive housing has a 90% long-term retention rate, as opposed to a 45% success rate for the old model.

Other examples surround us – from organizations tackling the long-standing inequalities around our food system (the historical legacy of slavery, sharecropping and entrenched systemic racism), to those encouraging local youth to using photography to document disparities in their schools and communities, and local incubators that bring venture capital and philanthropic capital to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) businesses so they can grow and scale.

Let’s all let our creativity run free as we reimagine how to tackle the root causes of DC’s persistent health inequities. On the contrary, the last two years have reminded us that our economic, social and health systems favor people who already have access to wealth and health care. Now is the time — in fact, it is high time — to improve the health outcomes of everything DC residents.

About Terry Simmons

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