Meeting social and non-medical needs of Kaiser Permanente members and communities it serves is the next crucial frontier to deliver on the promise of encouraging and empowering Total Health, according to Senior Vice President of Community Benefit, Research, and Health Policy Ray Baxter, PhD.
“Kaiser Permanente consistently delivers outstanding medical outcomes for our members as measured by the National Committee for Quality Assurance and other quality ratings standards,” he said. “Now we must step up to solve underlying environmental, social and community barriers that are holding people back from enjoying the health and well-being they deserve.”
Baxter spoke to nearly 2,000 attendees at the 36th annual conference of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in San Antonio, Texas, where he shared some of Kaiser Permanente’s success stories of engaging members, staff and community members to achieve Total Health of body, mind and spirit, while challenging other health care organizations to both follow Kaiser Permanente’s lead and partner with the organization.
“This is a massive undertaking, and we cannot do this alone,” Baxter said. “To make fundamental changes, we must pull every lever available to us — individually and collectively.”
Empowering Thriving Schools, healthy communities and policy change
Baxter pointed to Kaiser Permanente’s work in schools, where 20 percent of its members — students, faculty, staff, and parent volunteers — spend at least part of each weekday to change behavior and facilitate healthy eating and active living. The Thriving Schools initiative, he pointed out, will grow to reach nearly 14,000 campuses across the United States.
“We are also focusing on our workforce, because we know we face the same social challenges and the same environmental barriers that prevent healthy eating and active living,” Baxter said. “And the same chronic conditions that result from any use of tobacco and excessive alcohol use.”
Modifying built environments and social norms, plus changing the policy landscape, are also critical opportunities Kaiser Permanente and its many partners — such as those who are part of the Partnership for a Healthier America, the Healthy Eating Active Living Cities Campaign, and Policylink — are working to address, Baxter said.
“How can we expect people to engage in daily activity when there are no safe places in their neighborhoods to exercise and play?” he asked. “And how can we expect them to enjoy healthy eating when there is no access to fresh fruits and vegetables?”
Kaiser Permanente is working to build multi-use trails and play spaces in many communities, especially those that are underserved and lack safe, convenient activity areas, as well as encouraging and empowering businesses to offer fresh fruits and vegetables, Baxter explained. Local, state and federal governments should do the same, he added.
Equity is the next frontier
“Kaiser Permanente has taken the lead at eliminating disparities in health outcomes with demonstrable results,” Baxter said. “Now we need to eliminate social, economic, and environmental disparities, in concert with large, convergent partnerships. Equity and justice are fundamental to health.”
Kaiser Permanente’s partners include more than 200 organizations who are part of the organization’s initiative to encourage regular walking: Every Body Walk!
Baxter pointed out that Kaiser Permanente physicians prescribe walking to adult patients and parks prescriptions for pediatric patients and their families to encourage access to natural spaces and the physical activity — both paths to positive behavior change and realization of Total Health.
“Kaiser Permanente clearly delivers the best clinical health outcomes, a clear focus on prevention, and now we — in conjunction with our partners — must deliver on identifying and meeting social, economic and environmental needs,” Baxter said. “That is how we will ultimately deliver Total Health equitably and on a large, meaningful scale.”