Opinion We need to rethink how to deal with persistent DC health inequalities

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Tonya Wells is the President and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

The recently established $ 95 million Health Equity Fund has the potential to help reshape the way DC is addressing its long-standing health inequalities. Some may think that the best investment would be to support organizations that provide direct services to people battling diabetes, hypertension, covid-19, maternal and child mortality, HIV / AIDS, homelessness, food insecurity, gun violence and many other problems that disproportionately affect the people of color in our city. These challenges absolutely deserve the attention and funding of our community.

The Greater Washington Community Foundation and the Health Justice Committee, which manages the Health Justice Fund, decided to focus on root causes and early interventions. As 80 percent of DC’s health outcomes are determined by social, economic and other factors and only 20 percent of clinical care, we plan to allocate the full resources of the fund to projects that violate more traditional approaches to social change in the end. account helps to fill the unbearable gaps in racial health and wealth. In other words, instead of putting a band-aid on these problems, we will focus on the reasons why people bleed in the first place.

The Health Equity Fund was established last year with settlement funds between DC’s insurance, securities and banking departments; Group Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc. (affiliate of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield); and the Appleseed DC Center for Law and Justice.

One of the largest funds of any kind, focused on non-profit organizations in the community that serve DC residents, the fund is also the largest company in the nearly 50-year history of The Community Foundation.

This month, the Community Foundation launched its first call for proposals for grants. With health and wealth inextricably linked, this first round of $ 10 million in grants to 40 organizations will boldly invest in economic mobility and wealth building in DC’s historically underinvestment communities. Future funding will focus on policy advocacy, community and multisectoral partnerships with hospitals and health and behavioral health and trauma care systems.

If you are a non-profit organization working to address these issues, we want to hear from you. We are particularly committed to supporting destructive strategies to change systems that improve the prospects for blacks, Latinos, or indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. Let me share a few examples of what I mean by destructive strategies to change systems.

Thirty years ago, the approach taken to tackling chronic homelessness by service organizations and the government – and adopted by funders – was to require uninhabited residents to prove they were “ready to live”. This meant observing certain conditions, such as sobriety or treatment, as a prerequisite for accommodation. But these demands often push these same uninhabited people back into the street. Recognizing this alarming trend, a nonprofit organization began asking non-residents what they necessary. The answer: a safe and stable place to live. Thus was born the innovative Housing First model. Unlike the traditional approach, Housing First requires neither treatment nor sobriety before moving clients to permanent maintenance. Housing First providers offer customers, but do not require customers to accept, support services tailored to individual needs and goals, understanding that these services are most effective when customers choose them voluntarily. Housing First has become an accepted standard in our region, throughout the country and in other parts of the world, and one that The Community Foundation has long supported, including through the Homelessness Partnership. The results of Housing First speak louder than the words: Permanent maintenance housing has a long-term retention rate of 90 percent, as opposed to 45 percent success rate for the old model.

Other examples are around us, from organizations that deal with long-standing injustices around our food system (the historical legacy of slavery, emigration and entrenched systemic racism), to those that encourage local youth to use photography to document differences in their schools. and communities and local incubators that attract venture and philanthropic capital to BIPOC enterprises (blacks, locals and non-blacks) so that they can grow and scale.

Let us all develop our creative powers as we rethink how to address the root causes of DC’s persistent health inequalities. If nothing else, the last two years have reminded us that our economic, social and health systems are preferred by people who already have access to wealth and health care. The time has come – in fact, time has passed – to improve health outcomes everything Residents of DC.

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