Leaders of distinct organizations collaborate to improve the health of the community. They do this without a playbook, with a loosely organized structure, and initially at least, with little money.
Many might find this scenario unrealistic, even naive.
Not Steve Hornberger.
He was once a leader in one such collaboration, which succeeded in improving the care of indigent, chronically ill patients while reducing their healthcare costs in Washington, D.C.
These days, he’s the director of the Social Policy Institute at the School of Social Work at San Diego State University. He’s one of the stakeholders participating in the Accountable Communities for Health (ACH) group that was launched locally last spring, one of six statewide.
Be There San Diego is acting as the backbone coordinating entity for the ACH.
Others invited to participate include Pastor Jesus Sandoval, from New Harvest Christian Fellowship of East San Diego. He and dozens of other leaders from a variety fields met twice over the summer to envision what the local ACH could achieve. They lead organizations in education, faith, criminal justice, community and philanthropy. They joined the public, private and nonprofit healthcare sectors that are also at the table.
An ACH fosters innovative partnerships among these leaders to tackle specific social problems -- such as poor housing, underperforming schools and bleak job opportunities – that have a significant impact on a community’s health.
Hornberger praised the local health sectors’ willingness to look beyond its own work to consider the impacts of the social determinants of health. And he’s been invigorated by the individuals who have responded to the ACH challenge.
“I’ve been impressed by the commitment, passion and professionalism of the people involved to improve the lives of all San Diegans,” said Hornberger.
The San Diego ACH is going to initially focus on reducing cardiovascular disease, particularly in hard-hit Southeastern San Diego. It also aims to reduce healthcare costs and generate long-term savings, which can be applied to promote community health.
In October, a stewardship group will begin meeting to lead the development of the ACH and two working groups will be formed to create plans for a Wellness Fund and a data strategy.
Hornberger said he joined the ACH because he wanted to bring his deep policy background to the table as well as the lessons he learned in his previous health collaboration in Washington, D.C., called Triple Aim. He’s convinced collaboration among distinct organizations is critical, “if we’re going to have a better quality of life.”
For Pastor Sandoval, meanwhile, the reason he keeps attending the ACH meetings is deeply personal. His grandmother died from cardiovascular disease, which has also touched other family members. He sees the effects of this chronic illness on his congregation, as well.
He said the meetings have explained how the social factors in a community -- - such as the physical environment, violence and drug abuse – affect the health of its residents. He said these gatherings have inspired the participants to ask: How can I contribute to the community’s health?
“And we’re not just talking about adopting policies but getting the community involved,” he said.
Sandoval, who has been a pastor for 14 years, said he’s taken the message of the need to lead a healthier lifestyle back to his congregation.
“Even though we address spiritual concerns, we have to share knowledge about how to improve our physical side, starting with ourselves, creating a ripple effect not only in the church but hopefully into the community.”
Through the meetings, he’s learned how everyone can contribute “their piece” toward a specific goal.
“Unless we come together, no single group is going to impact the entire community. We have to come together. There’s no option.”