I sometimes think of health as a waterfall. A single problem, like a trick knee, can trigger another, like a sedentary lifestyle. That can lead to obesity, which can then lead to diabetes or heart disease. If unchecked, a small issue can cascade into a torrent of crises.
In reality, though, I know that human health depends on so much more than what’s going on inside our bodies. I remind myself to step back and look not just at the waterfall but at the whole ecosystem.
Just like in nature’s ecosystems, all components of a community play a role in whether our friends and neighbors thrive or struggle. When we’re caring for people, we need to consider a range of factors that affect them. Do they have supportive relationships? Is their neighborhood set up to encourage healthy living? Are there parks and sidewalks for recreation? Do they have adequate employment? Transportation? Is health insurance readily available? Do they struggle with a language barrier?
Among healthcare professionals, these factors are called the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). By widening our lens to include SDOH, we become more aware of the pluses and minuses of our own local ecosystem. We begin to seek out these factors and take them into account when working to foster wellness in the community.
The good news: Studies show that Federally Qualified Health Centers like the Rockbridge Area Health Center are uniquely positioned to address the impact of SDOH. At RAHC, we are mission-driven to advocate for a holistic view of wellness. We focus on creating programs that are embedded in the community and oriented around closing the gap in health outcomes.
At RAHC, you can see the ways we do that in such activities as our recent health needs survey, where we learned directly from community members about unmet healthcare needs in the area. Or in our robust telehealth counseling services, which we’ve expanded to address the growing need for emotional support in our population. We’re addressing transportation issues by offering dental care in two locations, opening satellite medical offices on the Kendal at Lexington campus and in Buena Vista next door to the RAHC dental office on Magnolia Avenue, and bringing vaccines to senior centers and communities throughout the County. This summer, we became the sole provider of family planning services for residents who formerly relied on our regional health department. Underpinning it all, we continue to offer a sliding scale payment system to provide support for those at every income level.
This year, we’ve been honored to receive four Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awards, recognizing our work to reduce health disparities, provide better access to care, advance health information technology use, and as an overall health center quality leader. We are continuing to push forward with ambitious plans to provide even more comprehensive care, the kind of care that takes the whole person–and the whole community–into account.
We cannot do it without you.
Our donors are an essential part of our ecosystem. Won’t you join us in supporting the area’s premier all-access community health organization? Even a modest amount makes a big difference.
Suzanne Sheridan, CEO