Innovative Community Partnerships Could Serve As Pathway to Reducing Health Disparities
A Texas A&M University Mays Business School professor says unconventional partnerships may be the key to making health care more accessible to marginalized communities.
In “Community Health Partners in Unexpected Places,” an article that has just been published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Dr. Leonard Berry and co-authors Dr. Michael Hole, Sunjay Letchuman and Allister Chang highlight the potential for health care organizations to partner with nontraditional sites to deliver basic health services, particularly to groups that otherwise may not have access to such services. These sites include libraries, barber shops, fire departments, laundromats, places of worship and shopping malls.
The authors present examples of innovative community health partnerships in operation across the country. Some have had remarkable success in bridging the health care divide, albeit on a smaller scale.
As the United States grapples with significant health disparities, creatively improving access to health care is essential, Berry said.
“Imagine the good that can come from getting your blood pressure checked in a barber shop or being helped in signing up for public benefits and health insurance in a laundromat,” Berry said, “This — and much more — is happening in the United States, but on a small scale. Let’s seize the moment, learn from these innovative programs, and expand them throughout the country. We must be bolder in realizing a shared vision of health for all Americans.”
The study delves into the practical aspects of scaling up these initiatives. The success of community health partnerships, the study argues, depends on careful planning and implementation. The authors identify four key pillars:
- Co-designing programs with community input. For such partnerships to be successful, health systems and community-based organizations must co-design programs with the direct involvement of community members. This co-design process ensures that services meet the needs of each community.
- Diversified funding. Establishing these health programs in nontraditional settings requires financial support. Organizations must be proactive in identifying and exploring multiple avenues of funding to ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of their health initiatives.
- Raising awareness: The success of these community health partnerships also depends on ensuring that the intended beneficiaries are aware of the services. A coordinated effort to publicize and promote these health services is essential to maximize their impact.
- Overcoming operational issues: Given that these unconventional venues were not designed to deliver health services, specific implementation barriers will need to be overcome. Addressing staff training, space, technology, and other logistical challenges will be paramount.