Cynthia Telles: A Community Approach is Essential to Public Health

LOS ANGELES, CA / ACCESSWIRE / July 20, 2020 / In 1978, the Alma-Ata Declaration deemed community support and engagement as fundamental to primary health care. This idea has grown over the years, especially since the recurring Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemics have confirmed the value of this approach. Research also demonstrates the importance of community resilience: one study found that strong leadership, tight communal bonds and sense of kinship, trusted communication channels and trust among various health system stakeholders to be critical for successfully addressing health shocks. The current state of the coronavirus pandemic provides even more evidence for the need of a community approach to improving health.

“Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the need for community support and participation in health care has proved to be more important than ever,” said Cynthia Telles, PhD, Community Health Committee Chair for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Boards of Directors. “Treating a pandemic is, by definition, about a community-wide infection, as much as it is about treating the disease in any one community member. So it is crucial that communities are enabled to engage with their health care systems in a productive manner.”

Community engagement can mean a number of different things in the health care context, but one thing is for certain: a community and its health care system are mutually inclusive entities. The World Health Organization (WHO) serves as an example of the different ways in which health systems and communities are interdependent: clinics and hospitals, surveillance staff and community health workers, policy development and human rights organizations, and so forth.

Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest integrated health care organization, is another example of this interdependency: its mission is to provide high-quality and affordable health care services to its members, and improve the health of the communities where it operates. By facilitating partnerships with local community organizations, Kaiser Permanente is able to identify, support and help implement creative solutions to often difficult and localized community health problems, including homelessness and preventing spread of the coronavirus.

“With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, communities and health systems must work harder than ever to ensure they are working together to improve public health,” said Dr. Cynthia Telles. “A community approach is now the only way we will see real progress towards eradicating this virus.”

Strong communities do more than just focus on the basic building blocks of traffic, commerce, and public safety. They also work to improve environmental challenges, housing affordability, public health, and help foster strong networks of all kinds of community- and family-based groups.

Similarly, strong health care organizations do more than hospitalizing the severely ill and injured, offering preventive care like immunizations, and providing treatment for cancer and chronic disease. Kaiser Permanente, for example, goes beyond the walls of its hospitals and medical offices to improve the conditions for health and equity in the communities it serves by addressing the root causes of health, including: economic opportunity, affordable housing, safe and supportive schools, preventing violence, and a healthy environment. And rather than taking on these issues on their own, the organization has a track record of collaboration with each community to co-design and co-create solutions to better ensure they are really addressing the problem, and can succeed and last. Collaboration between health care organizations and the community not only creates real improvement in communities’ overall health conditions, but is also crucial to combating health outbreaks.

Community participation has proven key to controlling disease in both heavily affected and less affected nations, making it all the more necessary as regions work to become – and later maintain the status of being – COVID-free. The reality is that “we’re all in this together”. Communities and health systems worldwide must recognize and accept the necessity of a mutually beneficial relationship in order to defeat this pandemic.

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SOURCE: Kaiser Permanente

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