Even before the healthcare challenges of 2020, there was a prevalent healthcare disparity between communities. According to the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), there is over 7,000 primary care, 6,000 dental care, and 5,000 mental health care shortage areas in the US. These shortages are often in more vulnerable communities that have higher incidences of substance abuse, crime, and poverty. However, with well-established community health, the cost of healthcare nationwide can be lowered, and chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes can be avoided, infectious diseases can be curbed, and a community’s quality of life can improve.
Licensed Healthcare Professionals A community health program’s widespread success depends on the number of healthcare workers powering it. Local government officials need to recognize the importance of having a fair number of medical professionals to satisfy their community population. These integral individuals include general physicians, obstetricians/gynecologists, dentists, mental health specialists, pharmacists, nurses, and physical therapists. Depending on the funding and state of the community, some healthcare programs streamline their medical team by staffing professionals who can do multiple duties or who cater to a population’s specific needs. For example, every community needs public health nurses. It's one of the most in-demand nursing careers with a projected 7% employment growth, and they are considered to be the backbone of successful community health programs. This is because they can educate, screen, and treat patients — meaning they do multiple duties in community healthcare settings. Furthermore, they are trained to determine the specific factors within a community, such as the population’s socioeconomic standing, which could be contributing to their poor health. Communities are unique and professionals must be able to tailor-fit programs and solutions to their health conditions. For example, Louisiana's obstetricians are focused on reducing severe bleeding and regulating blood pressure as experts found those to be the major contributors to the state’s pregnancy-related fatalities.
Dedicated Physical Centers
Considering that a large portion of healthcare program recipients reside in transient occupancy or are homeless, having a physical venue makes it easier to access and treat patients. As a community-based and patient-centered affair, healthcare centers should be well-ventilated, clean, spacious, and capable of treating emergency situations such as childbirth, heart attacks, and fractures. This prevents patients from having to turn to costly E.R.s visits.
For instance, despite being the 3rd poorest state, an ER visit in West Virginia costs around $1,127. Considering that 1 in 4 healthcare visitors are uninsured and over 1.4 million are homeless, having a more affordable medical option increases chances of early intervention and active prevention. With COVID-19 restrictions, it’s also important that these healthcare centers are regularly disinfected, stocked with personal protection equipment (PPE), and capable of extending telehealth services if need be. Along with health centers, food banks and social centers often go hand-in-hand to nourish a community. Often, these can even be located in the same property.
Having a strong healthcare system at the community level is the surest way of alleviating many systemic issues like poverty, chronic disease, violence, and crime. Aside from securing health resources, it’s also important to offer social service assistance during these times of uncertainty. For more information on initiatives for a healthy & whole community, the Helpline House has more details to help you.
Article written by Rebecca Jay
Exclusively for helplinehouse.org