By Stephanie Sonnenshine
It’s been known that social determinants of health—the conditions in which people live, work and play—have significant impacts on a person’s physical and emotional well-being. However, early in the pandemic another issue became increasingly and undeniably clear: that social and racial inequities have significant and devastating consequences, resulting in COVID-19 affecting communities in vastly different ways.
In fact, we now know that the data overwhelmingly shows that Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) experienced higher rates of COVID-19-related hospitalization and death compared with non-Hispanic white populations. This health crisis publicly uncovered what many health care experts already knew: that there are grave health disparities in our communities, and that we must devote significant resources and attention to addressing them. We have a moral responsibility to provide equitable access to health care for all.
As a County Organized Health System (COHS), we serve nearly 390,000 Medi-Cal members in Merced, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties—equating to nearly 40 percent of our local population. Our members include children, adults, families, seniors, people experiencing homelessness and individuals with disabilities, and eighty five percent of our members are BIPOC. We have been trusted to meet the needs of the communities where we have lived and served for nearly three decades.
We seek to further understand the needs of Medi-Cal members in our communities, and we are invested in supporting them on the path to be their healthiest selves. To help guide us in this endeavor, the Alliance has committed to two key priorities in our five-year strategic plan.
First, in order to address the health disparities that were further illuminated by COVID-19, we have committed to health equity as a critical priority. A future that embraces health equity provides that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. To realize this vision, the Alliance will seek to understand root causes of health disparities, particularly those experienced by members who identify as BIPOC. Identified goals in this journey include eliminating health disparities and achieving optimal health outcomes for children and youth and increasing access to culturally and linguistically appropriate health care.
Second, we need to further transform our delivery system to ensure that member needs remain at the center of the health care system. This idea represents an evolution towards a system that yields optimal member health through shared decision making and action, rather than a system that simply delivers health care services. Our success will hinge on improving behavioral health services and systems to be person-centered and equitable, as well as improving the system of care for members with complex medical and social needs.
Healthy People, Healthy Communities is our vision and by this, we envision a world where our members and our communities experience their best health possible—physically, socially and emotionally. For more information about the Alliance or about our strategic priorities, please visit www.thealliance.health.
About the author: Stephanie Sonnenshine is the chief executive officer of Central California Alliance for Health (the Alliance), a Medi-Cal managed care health plan focused on improving access to health care for more than 390,000 residents of Merced, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.