Event Spotlight: Collaborating for Community Health

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Health industry thought leaders gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on November 5, 2014 to introduce the November 2014 Issue of Health Affairs. The issue, Collaborating for Community Health,” examines new possibilities created by aligning the fields of health care and community development.

Providers are coming to understand the importance of social context when it comes to population health,” said Alan Weil, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, as he opened the briefing. Weil said the health care industry’s efforts to build stronger relationships with social support systems are admirable, but these relationships aren’t designed to alter the fundamental community characteristics that determine health. Thus, he concluded, the health care system cannot — nor should it be expected to — tackle these problems alone.

Following Weil’s introduction, more than 10 expert authors featured in the November issue of Health Affairs shared their views on community development as an opportunity to improve health. One of those experts, Douglas Jutte, associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley and executive director for the Build Healthy Places Network, helped set the stage by explaining, The medical system is designed very well to treat illness, not sustain health.” He told a story of a mother who made the choice to purchase fast food dinners for her children every night because it was easy for her. Let’s make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Jutte said.

How do we do that? J. Emilio Carrillo, vice president and medical director of community health at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, has an idea. His hospital’s Regional Health Collaborative created a model in which there is no leader. Everyone — from secretaries to executives — has an equal voice. After three years, this model has produced significant results. Carrillo said, The hospitals throughout this country are going through dramatic changes. It’s important to stay relevant, and this process allows us to do that by sharing best practices within and across levels.”

The key takeaway from the event is that collaboration is essential for overall population health. Just as health does not arise from a single factor, healthy communities emerge from combined efforts that stretch across government and industry. 

Read the November 2014 Issue: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/33/11.toc (subscription required).