Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, spoke about Health Leads during a panel discussion on non-communicable diseases (NCD) at the Clinton Global Initiative on 24 September. Ms. Lavizzo-Mourey noted that important preventative measures for NCDs should include analyzing the living environments outside hospital walls in order to improve the quality of overall care people receive, which is what Health Leads specifically advocates and executes.

Health Leads’s mission statement reads, “to catalyze this health care system by connecting patients with the basic resources they need to be healthy…to champion quality care for all patients.” An example of this model is enabling doctors to prescribe basic resources like food and heat to their patients the same way the doctors would prescribe medicine or provide referrals. This whole-patient approach requires healthcare professionals to learn about the community environment and the living conditions of their patients when they leave their doctors’ offices.

The results of these inquiries enter the patient’s electronic record, which partner-hospitals can use to refer patients who lack basic resources to Health Leads. Through a systematic set of steps, the patient can carry the prescription to a Health Leads desk at the partner-hospital.

A Health Leads Advocate then works with the patient to connect her to the necessary community services that will help provide the basic resources the patient requires. Aid programs for basic resources may include additional health insurance coverage, access to food pantries and food assistance programs, discounts on gas and electric costs, job training, and childcare subsidies.

The last two steps require a follow-up from the Health Leads Advocate and updates to the clinic team from the patient. This symbiotic relationship is necessary to navigate any further challenges that may arise as a result of the previous steps. These challenges may include tracking down phone numbers, creating maps, finding transportation, and completing applications. Health Leads launched in 2010 and has since served over 23,000 patients.

In 2012, the program identified the top seven patient needs: education, utilities, housing, food, employment, income and benefits, and legal. To address these needs Health Leads trains a dedicated staff of program managers and Advocates whose sole design is to connect patients with the basic resources they require to get healthy.

– Yuliya Shokh

Sources: Health Leads, CGI 2013 Annual Meeting
Photo: Bloomberg

Why Food is a Global Health Issue
Rebecca D. Onie, the founder of Health Leads, gave an interesting TED Talk on the state of the healthcare system in the United States. While her approach was aimed at reforming the U.S. healthcare system, her message is valuable for the international and global health care mentality as well.

Onie spoke about her experience working as a legal assistant for low-income Boston families and how her time there motivated her to found Health Leads. She discovered that, on the issue of hunger and malnutrition, doctors are told to follow a “don’t ask don’t tell policy.”

Onie tells the story of Dr. Jack Geiger who operated a community health center in Mississippi. Dr. Geiger began writing his malnourished patients prescriptions for food, attacking the root of many of their health problems. Onie suggests that if we want people to really get better, we need to first treat the underlying causes of individuals suffering health, which in many cases is hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.

Health Leads understands the impact malnutrition and poverty can have on a child. Poverty dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of hospitalization. Children whose families cannot afford to pay their utility bills are also more likely to be hospitalized.

Health Leads has experienced a great deal of success in the United States. Since 2010 Health Leads has helped over 23,000 people. The organization has provided access to food, utilities, legal assistance, employment, education, and benefits. Health Leads is supplying exactly the kind of resources necessary to lift people out of poverty and empower them to stand on their own two feet.

The question now becomes, what is stopping the United States from proposing the same kind of change in the developing world as well? What would happen if we were to provide stable nutrition and housing programs for children in developing countries? Would worldwide medical reform where doctors prescribed food alongside medication be more effective than medication alone? Rebecca D. Onie’s work provides an interesting perspective and idea to consider.

– Caitlin Zusy

Sources: TED Talk, Health Leads
Photo: npr