Consistent with our mission, Catholic Health is committed to making a critical difference in the health of the underserved. Catholic Health’s Chief Public and Community Health Officer, Lawrence Eisenstein, MD, MPH, FACP, discusses our health equity initiative.
Can you define health equity and Catholic Health’s efforts to achieve it?
It’s about ensuring everyone has a fair opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Economic and social factors in people’s lives can present obstacles to good health. We want to change that equation by eliminating preventable or correctable health disparities.
At Catholic Health, we believe health care is a right, not a privilege. Being a faith-based health care system, we treat all patients needing our services, regardless of their beliefs or ability to pay, and offer programs designed to bring specific care and resources based on each individual’s needs.
What are some of these programs?
One is our award-winning “Food To-Go” initiative. Every patient who enters our emergency rooms is screened for food insecurity. If necessary, they leave with a food-to-go bag to keep them fed while social services procure long-term nutritional support.
Our Healthy Sundays program sends health care professionals to convenient locations, such as parishes, to conduct free screenings and provide health education. We meet community members where they want to be met and work to detect health issues early.
We’ve expanded our community health initiative to include weekday visits to senior centers, libraries, schools and other community venues and events. The screenings we provide in our Community Outreach Buses are “exam rooms on wheels,” where we perform routine health screenings and, if necessary, refer patients to one of our clinics.
What’s driving Catholic Health’s investment in this effort?
It’s part of our mission. We place care where it’s needed. And we’re leading a shift in health care, moving from “sick care” to “well care.” We are working to keep people in better health. This limits unnecessary hospital visits, minimizes financial strain for health services and, most importantly, leads to better health outcomes for patients.
We also believe that working toward health equity directly translates into decreasing health care costs. That’s because as we ramp up access to quality care and address the social determinants of health, we can bend the disease curve downward.
That’s where the cost savings come in. It just costs more to treat more advanced diseases.
What is meant by the “social determinants” of health?
It means the non-clinical factors that truly determine our health status. The food we eat, the air we breathe, transportation access to vital services, and the environment we live and play in. We can preempt avoidable illness and unnecessary hospital visits by addressing these issues, such as food insecurity.
Sounds like Catholic Health is moving at great speed on the road to health equity.
We are, and we’re making a real difference in people’s lives. I think of the woman who came to our Emergency Department at Mercy Hospital. Another hospital had turned her away because she didn’t have a “medical” condition; she was just hungry. Our team provided a full lunch, a food-to-go bag, and a list of resources for enrolling in a food assistance program. That’s Catholic Health making a difference.