Public Health – Seattle & King County, Swedish Health Services, HealthPoint Community Health Clinics, and the Washington Global Health Alliance have partnered with the cities of SeaTac and Tukwila to create an innovative approach to addressing health disparities. This project is another step towards reforming the US health care system to focus on the health of individuals and communities, as we move towards the vision of universal access to health care.
The project, called the Global to Local Health Initiative (G2L), was launched with $1 million in seed funding donated by Swedish. The concept is to take advantage of the knowledge and experience emerging from the area’s expanding global health sector. The plan is to apply the lessons learned and strategies developed for addressing health issues in lower income countries to low income communities in our area. The goal is to improve health, lower costs, and create economic development.
The United States has a pattern of extraordinary health disparities that is vastly different from other industrialized countries. That pattern has been set by the lack of access to quality health care for persons with low and moderate incomes, reinforced by lack of knowledge and the tendency to postpone or neglect preventive care. Our fee-for-service health system encourages this behavior – if you do not have an excellent health insurance plan and/or belong to a managed care organization that emphasizes prevention, the financial incentives are perversely structured to discourage getting medical attention when it is most cost effective, early in an illness or before a chronic condition establishes itself. Those who do not have health insurance (13% of King County residents aged 16 to 64, 24% in the targeted cities of Tukwila and SeaTac) are dependent on the limited resources of charity care or governmental assistance. The problem is especially acute for those whose incomes are too high for programs like Medicaid but too low to provide serious resources that can be dedicated to health care.
In Tukwila and SeaTac, teen birth rates are three times the King County average, obesity rates are 50% higher, asthma rates are 30% higher, and life expectancy is significantly lower. At the same time, much of the population is foreign born and many have limited English skills.
G2L has engaged a diverse team of locally recruited Community Health Promoters, who work with community members to promote health, offer classes on health issues, use new technologies to provide interpretative services, and help people identify and get access to economic opportunities. With additional funding from Providence, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and Novo Nordisk, the program is expanding and diversifying its services.
Poor health and poverty are deeply linked phenomena. Healthy individuals and communities are on their way to prosperity – and prosperity generates the income that maintains health. By using tested methods of community involvement drawn from experi3ences in low income communities around the globe, G2L has the potential to turn a vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle, and make a difference for those involved and for our community as a whole.