Across the U.S. and around the world, low-income communities and communities of color are facing health crises at alarming rates. Chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes are responsible for more than 71% of deaths globally, and 88% of deaths in the U.S. As with other health challenges, the impact of these diseases disproportionately impact underserved communities, resulting in massive health disparities that are passed on to future generations.
We know this is not simply a medical problem to be solved. These disparities are driven by complex, interconnected social and economic issues like poverty, structural racism and access to healthcare, education and opportunity.
But how do we best tackle these issues to address chronic disease? And how can we advance health equity in the most meaningful, sustainable way?
In 2018, we asked ourselves these questions, and set out to take a community-based approach to find new answers to address the impact of chronic diseases like diabetes. Our goal was to partner with local community organizations to address the most pressing, everyday challenges that prevent people from living healthy — particularly in underserved communities that face significant health disparities.
And with this as a foundation, our Future Well Communities program was born in 2019.
We introduced Future Well Communities in Stockton, California, which was recently named the most diverse large city in America. Working with local government, leading institutions and community groups, we launched targeted initiatives to address the social determinants of health (SDOH). Think: lack of access to healthcare and education, less economic opportunity and discrimination – all elements directly linked to health inequities.
Through this initiative, we focused on removing barriers to good health in Stockton by providing access to the things people should have access to, but not everyone does — things like transportation to medical appointments, healthy foods, health education, and medical professionals who understand the complexities of managing diabetes and the unique challenges their patients face.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world in early 2020. Along with the rest of the global health community, we had to quickly assess, listen, adapt and reset. It was clear that the most vulnerable communities would be hit the hardest and need greater support. So we provided targeted resources, food and frontline support to help address immediate needs.
At the same time, the availability of many in-person services were limited and became more challenging to provide. Health education classes and group health appointments went virtual. Gathering in community spaces was not an option.
Fortunately, we designed the Future Well Communities program to be flexible at its core. We set up a model that would allow us to implement a new approach to disease treatment and prevention, learn from our efforts, apply those learnings, and adapt and pivot as needed. All with an eye to supporting our 2030 Sustainability Plan focus on advancing health equity through partnership.