We dig a little deeper.

That’s just what partners of the Root Cause Coalition did yesterday at its first annual National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health.

“Health care needs are human needs — and human needs are our work,” said Barbara Petee, executive director of the coalition in her welcoming remarks to the estimated 400 attendees, adding that “collaboration is key.”

Co-founded last year by the AARP Foundation and Toledo, Ohio-based ProMedica health system, the Root Cause Coalition is a national nonprofit organization that aims to improve individual and community health by fostering collaborative partnerships among health care organizations, grassroots outreach groups, universities, policymakers and others to address such social determinants of health as hunger, housing, jobs, education and transportation. The American Hospital Association is one of the inaugural members of the coalition.

A broad range of local stakeholders who understand the needs in their communities combined forces yesterday to rededicate themselves to their mission of implementing measurable, sustainable solutions to improve the health of the populations they serve. They shared not only which initiatives that have been successful in their own organizations, but also how they can collectively contribute to the coalition’s goals.

ProMedica President and CEO Randy Oostra noted that the Affordable Care Act, whatever changes may be in store for it, “has not and will not fundamentally change the U.S. health care model.” But, he stressed, nonprofit “anchor institutions” like hospitals are worthy of continued investment because, in addition to their historic health care delivery purpose, they now offer new ways of driving economic growth. To that end, ProMedica is relocating its corporate headquarters to downtown Toledo to help revitalize the inner city and provide new jobs, which Oostra added, “is one of the best things you can do for people.”

Reinvestment Fund President and CEO Donald Hinkle-Brown explained that his organization’s mission is to be “a catalyst for change in low-income communities by building a framework for community investment.” That means funding socially and environmentally responsible development, including affordable housing, schools, health centers and grocery stores.

AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson described the foundation’s focus on the health determinants that most affect older adults, including social isolation, limited income, housing and “hunger as a helm issue,” emphasizing that food insecurity remains a major ongoing problem for U.S. seniors, resulting in a range of consequences that compromise their health.  

Representatives from St. Joseph Mercy Health System–Southeast Michigan shared how the vegetable farm on their hospital campus has benefited staff, patients and area schoolchildren by providing not only fresh, local produce, but also education and therapy for a range of patients.

The day concluded with an animated panel discussion and Q&A session with representatives from OSF Healthcare, based in Peoria, Ill.; Loma Linda (Calif.) University Institute for Community Partnerships; California State University, San Bernardino; and the Vermont Foodbank. Panelists touched on the importance of health care workforce development and the need for unrelenting advocacy to pursue the sustainability of vital public policies. The discussion ranged from how to educate philanthropists to the role of race in analyzing the social determinants of health care.

The day’s most resonant comment came from Ryerson. “Poverty is the ultimate root cause,” she said. “Poverty is a racial, LGBT, ethnic, rural and urban problem. Ultimately, it is an American problem.”

Other inaugural members of the coalition are the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, Ascension, University Hospitals of Cleveland, Dignity Health, Loma Linda University Health, Humana, Feeding America, Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, Paramount, BlueCross BlueShield Minnesota, Connecticut Mental Health Center, Community Servings, and CareNet of Toledo/Lucas County.

For more information on this issue, see our Food Insecurity page with links to H&HN coverage and other AHA resources.