One of the things we’ve learned from the coronavirus pandemic is how our personal actions can influence the health of family, friends, co-workers, and even others in our community. We wear masks. We practice physical distancing. We wash our hands.
The benefits go the other way, too. Research has shown that our environments — our social determinants of health, such as access to resources, housing, education, healthy foods, and more — greatly influence our quality of life and our health.
“The health of the community that you’re in, and your ability to be healthy in your community, are huge drivers of somebody’s overall physical and mental health,” said Ellen Weaver, director of community health and engagement for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado. “We know as a health care organization that the medical care we deliver is important — but it’s one piece of somebody’s overall health.”
To help address community challenges and improve community health, Kaiser Permanente has created various philanthropic programs and partnerships with allied community organizations. Here’s a look at some of those efforts.
To improve kids’ and teens’ mental health, Kaiser Permanente’s Arts Integrated Resources team developed the interactive, hour-long play “Ghosted” and facilitated discussion (currently live-streamed) for 8th- to 12th-grade students that fosters conversations about mental health, suicide, substance abuse, anxiety, and building resilience. The program also helps teachers talk to students about these issues.
Access to nutritious food has become more difficult during the pandemic, according to Brett Reeder, director of client services at Hunger Free Colorado, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger.
Kaiser Permanente refers members to HFC, which helps connect them to services like area food pantries. We also teamed up with HFC to get the word out about SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, through text messages to potentially eligible residents.
Lack of available, affordable housing is one of Colorado’s greatest challenges.
“If you look at what people need in order to be healthy, housing is at the top of the list,” Weaver said.
Late last year, Kaiser Permanente invested $500,000 to expand the Built for Zero initiative, a nationwide effort that uses data about real individuals and housing availability to try to end homelessness. In May 2020, Kaiser Permanente awarded Denver’s Department of Housing Stability a $1 million grant to help with COVID-19-specific measures, such as housing vouchers, support for the quarantine and isolation of people exposed to the coronavirus, expanded testing, cleaning supplies, and more.
“We’re really grateful to have a health care provider like Kaiser Permanente, who understands how housing impacts health, and that these 2 things are linked,” said Britta Fisher, chief housing officer for the City and County of Denver.
All of these community efforts are paramount to Kaiser Permanente’s mission as a nonprofit organization. For more than 50 years, Kaiser Permanente in Colorado has invested billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours back into its communities to ensure that Coloradans thrive.