Group to focus on social solutions to health problems

·3 min read

Aug. 2—HIGH POINT — A foundation created almost 10 years ago to support work to improve health in the greater High Point area is shifting its focus to underlying social conditions that are connected to widespread poor health.

The Foundation for a Healthy High Point, established in 2013 following a merger of High Point Regional Health and UNC Health Care, issued a new mission statement and strategic direction statement this week. They are based on the results of a study of High Point area's health by the UNC Greensboro Center for Housing and Community Studies and the National Institute of Minority Economic Development's Research, Policy and Impact Center.

The mission statement now emphasizes that the foundation's goal is to "transform upstream social influences," or non-medical factors, that affect health.

"This 'upstream' approach ... requires changes to structural and systemic barriers," the strategic direction document says.

Executive Director Curtis Holloman said Tuesday that will mean a shift in how the foundation evaluates grant applications, but it also means the foundation will take a more active role in the community to try to help find solutions to problems identified by the study.

"I think it (the study) was quite revealing," he said, noting for instance that the study found that the health conditions in certain low-income parts of the area are falling farther behind those in other neighborhoods. "I think that's something we have been talking about, but this study confirmed it."

The study included interviews with local government, non-profit and health officials and residents as well as a community survey completed by 136 people.

Whitney Davis, program officer for the foundation, said the study was the first she knows of that looked at the social drivers of health outcomes in High Point rather than just assessing what health problems exist here.

"The study broadens the definition of health," she said.

The study identified five categories of social conditions having the most significant impact on community health outcomes:

—Neighborhoods and the built environment, which includes the cost of housing, access to healthy food, neighborhood safety and transportation options.

—Health care access and quality.

—Social and community context, which includes family violence and abuse, and traumatic stress from witnessing violence.

—Economic stability, which includes job opportunities and household income levels.

—Education access and quality.

The foundation will focus on the first three because other organizations are highly engaged with the last two, the strategic direction document says.

Holloman said he doesn't expect any structural changes in the foundation. Exactly how the foundation will work to address problems identified by the study will be the subject of discussions between the foundation's representatives and its partners over the coming months leading to its 10th anniversary.

In 2021, the foundation provided a total of more than $1.5 million for 31 projects, and since it was founded it has given away more than $13 million.

The foundation's current request for grant proposals — applications in the current round are due Aug. 19 — explicitly addresses the five categories of social drivers of health.

"What people will see in the call for proposals will reflect the strategic direction," Holloman said. "This is an attempt to focus and prioritize where we put those resources."