In December, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) hosted its second annual Health Equity Summit. The theme of this year’s Summit was Health Equity in Action: Justice and Equity for All. Our keynote speaker discussed structures in our society that result in social inequities and their impact on health beginning in early childhood. He also presented a cadre of solutions such as increasing “Cores of Champions” (i.e. community leaders or healthcare providers) that can bring attention to the impact of these concerns, and building up more placed-based initiatives that address transportation, housing, education, and neighborhood environment such as the Rhode Island Health Equity Zones Initiative.
The keynote presentation helped to frame discussions in breakout sessions. In the United States, we spend more on healthcare than any other developed nation; yet we do not have the longest average life expectancy. Other developed countries who have higher average life expectancies spend twice as much money on social services such as transportation, housing, education, and safe neighborhood environments compared to healthcare services. In the US, that spending ratio is inverted—we spend half as much on social services as we do on healthcare expenses.
Simply stated, we need to think about spending smarter on resources and services that help to address things like employment opportunities, transportation, housing, education, food availability, , and mental health. If a patient does not have a car or easy access to public transportation, it is easy to understand why keeping regular medical appointments can be a challenge. If a patient has difficulty satisfying the basic human needs of food and shelter, preparing healthy meals becomes increasingly unlikely.
In order to achieve justice and equity for all, we need to be fully informed by the data, we need to advocate for those who don’t have a voice for themselves, and we need action steps to get the work done in our communities.