Sustaining and Measuring Community Health in California – and Linking to the Human Services

Communities play a major role in determining and sustaining the health, fitness, and, ultimately, the longevity and quality of life of their residents.  Many studies indicate that community conditions and amenities impact the personal choices of residents in the areas of diet and exercise, disease treatment and management, and in engagement in behaviors that can be harmful to health.

Often referred to as the physical or environmental determinants of health, such community attributes are the focus of exciting initiatives in states and localities across the country. Moreover, the burgeoning fields of open health data and health data analytics offer great promise in enabling state and local policymakers to track key community-wide health metrics and monitor the changing measures of health among wider population groups. These initiatives and indicators — and the enabling technologies — will be the focus of several events in which Stewards of Change Institute will be involved in 2014.

California has emerged as a leader in the work being done in the field of Healthy Communities. In 2012, the State of California Department of Public Health’s laid the groundwork for healthy community initiatives and indicators with its “Healthy Communities Indicators” framework. Also in 2012, the Let’s Get Healthy California Task Force identified high priority health goals and sample indicators in its report. The Task Force report focused on key contributors to overall community health including access to healthy food outlets, availability of areas and facilities for exercise, and the levels of crime and perceptions of safety within a community.

Major California cities and counties have since embarked on journeys to promote better overall community health, decrease inequities in access to high quality healthcare and health facilities, and to employ and share data that enhances our overall understanding of community health.

The County of San Diego is among the leaders in taking up the mantle of the healthy community.  With its Live Well San Diego initiative, the County’s Health and Human Services Agency has developed an actionable plan with a compelling vision for a healthy, safe and thriving county.  The County has already rolled out a public campaign aimed at impacting the most deleterious health conditions in San Diego’s population.  The “3-4-50” campaign is aimed at curtailing the 3 most harmful behaviors, those that typically lead to the 4 deadliest diseases in the general population. This is an exciting approach – and one that is already bearing fruit in thorny problem areas such as hospital readmission and childhood obesity. In addition to the excitement around concrete results generated in places like San Diego, we are increasingly captivated by the possibilities created by new ways that healthcare providers and human services programs might be able to share data about their patient and client populations – to assist in data-driven planning and feedback loops, to better target health services to the most vulnerable, and to minimize the damage done by those who seek to perpetuate waste and abuse.

Given Stewards of Change’ long history of engagement with the other “H” in HHS – the human services component – we will be working in 2014 and coming years to increase integration of the social services into initiatives like California’s Healthy Communities – along with related health data sharing initiatives. It almost goes without saying that populations suffering from poor diets, not engaged in regular exercise, poorly managing health conditions, and routinely exposed to crime encounter social and human services programs at higher-than-average rates. Leveraging the presence of our social programs, and sharing the already-public data they gather and maintain, to improve overall community health and safety is a major imperative for the Stewards of Change Institute.

In this spirit, we seek to expand our engagement with organizations and events focused on health and health data. Following on to our successful California Interoperability Symposia of 2013, and the California HHS Open DataFest in January 2014, we are very excited to participate in a series of events in the coming months that will highlight new developments and uses of civic data in fields like Healthy Communities.

We are pleased to provide support for the 2014 Healthy Communities Data Summit, to be held on June 11 at UCLA. The second annual Summit will showcase the ideas, practices, and technologies that are changing the way health data are shared and used at the local level in California communities. Presentations and discussions will build awareness and accelerate conversations on the ways governments, clinicians, and IT innovators can work together — using data-driven strategies and practices — toward improving health care delivery and outcomes in California communities.

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