Social Determinants of Health in the Age of COVID-19

Jerry Jones — June 11, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious implications for our community’s access to basic needs. Shortages of food supplies, decreased childcare, and financial strains from unemployment have escalated during the pandemic, and will likely continue for months to come. How will our access to these essential needs change post-COVID?

The region’s social service needs (such as food, shelter and access to healthcare) have increased, while the capacity, or existence or ability to access these items, has stayed stagnant or has even decreased at the start of quarantine. Our access to and security of these items are all considered social determinants of health.

Social Determinants of Health Pre- and During COVID-19

Our social determinants of health (SDoH) include things such as where we live and work, our ability to access to healthy food, the type and level of education we receive, and our income. In addition to these things, one’s race and ethnicity is also a key determinant of health and is a major contributor to how well and how long one lives, especially if they are a person of color in America. These socioeconomic and environmental factors play a major role in individuals’ health outcomes and life expectancy.

In Missouri, specifically, race, education and income play a factor in the prevalence of diabetes:

  • African Americans have disproportionately higher diabetes prevalence than Caucasians, at 13.3% vs. 10.3%, respectively.
  • Diabetic prevalence for individuals with less than a high school education is 15.9% vs. 9.4% for those with more than a high school education.
  • Individuals with incomes of $15,000-$25,000 per year have a diabetic prevalence of 14.7% vs. 5.6% for those with incomes of $75,000 or more.

These health inequities already existed in our community pre-COVID-19, but the pandemic has only further created a divide in health outcomes by diminishing our ability to purchase food and other important supplies, shelter in a home, keep ourselves and our families safe, and much more. Since the start of the pandemic, Kansas City community-based organizations report an increased need for economic, food, and health services.

  • 32% of Kansas City nonprofits report an increased need for economic support, including financial aid for rent, utilities and more by residents.
  • 22% of Kansas City nonprofits report an increased need for food by residents.
  • 22% of Kansas City nonprofits report an increased need for housing, childcare, staffing and technology by residents.
  • 15% of Kansas City nonprofits report an increased need for health services and products, such as mental health services, medicine and hygienic products by residents.
  • 9% of Kansas City nonprofits report an increased need for help in creating educational content, applying for unemployment and other social safety net services by residents.

COVID-19 is testing how unique health inequities and social factors affect our overall health and well-being like never before.

How Blue KC Is Helping

Blue KC has partnered with Healthify, an organization dedicated to helping its healthcare partners identify and solve issues related to helping patients access necessary social service resources. Together, we will work to identify the most at-risk communities and build an accountable network of social service organizations to help Kansas City residents with their economic, food and health needs. In addition, Blue KC has contributed $200,000 to community-based organizations to assist residents in getting the social support they need, specific to their area or individualized needs.

Thanks to Healthify, we also plan to support members that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 by providing self-care kits that include hand sanitizer, thermometers and soap. We are also planning to deliver a 15-day grocery supply to those experiencing food insecurity in our community.

Health Inequities Post-COVID-19

As we attempt to bounce back economically, socially, emotionally and financially from the pandemic, Blue KC will be right here to strengthen our community. Health will look different post-COVID, and we will be ready to adapt to best support our members. In partnership with Healthify, we will use data to shape health equity initiatives, enhance community-based organizations and make investments that focuses on collective impact of Kansas City residents and beyond. Moving toward value-based care will also be a priority, so we can best serve our members based on their individual needs.

Post-COVID, we will also likely see increased food insecurity, mental and physical health concerns and financial burdens as barriers to living a healthy life. We are working diligently to find a solid network of community partners that are geo-targeted to meet these specific community needs, as well as updating our current care model to best serve each individual.

To learn more about the social determinants of health and Blue KC’s other community impact initiatives, visit our website.