Episode #39 – A Novel Approach to Harness the Most Powerful Social Determinants of Health

It’s been said that our zip codes impact our health more than our genetic codes.  How do the social determinants of health — education, employment, public transportation, safe housing and neighborhoods, access to healthy food… — so profoundly affect healthcare utilization and health outcomes?

In this interview, you’ll hear an emerging story of how the leadership of a healthcare system in New Jersey is addressing this issue head-on and going right to the root cause.  My remarkable guest, Michellene Davis – a lawyer and policy expert – is the Executive Vice President & Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for RWJBarnabas Health – the largest healthcare system and largest non-profit employer in the state of New Jersey.  Ms. Davis has been named as New Jersey’s top healthcare lobbyist and Modern Healthcare recently recognized her with their 2018 Top 25 Most Influential Minorities in Healthcare Award.

Key topics and stories we’ll explore in this interview include:

  • RWJBarnabas Health’s rollout of a novel and compelling “anchor” strategy, synergistic with larger economic and cultural revitalization efforts like the ‘Newark 2020 Initiative’ launched by Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka.
  • The overall approach and major interventions of the ‘Social Impact & Community Investment Practice’ that focus on education, economic stability, neighborhood and built environments, global health and employee engagement & volunteerism.
  • Inspiring stories of local entrepreneurs who are growing successful businesses and enriching the local community as part of the “Hire, Buy, Invest” strategy that Ms. Davis is leading on behalf of RWJBarnabas Health.

Ms. Davis emphasizes how her organization’s community-focused initiatives make sense, not only from a healthcare perspective, but also from a business and economic perspective.  The approach taken in New Jersey is focused on implementing long-term, expanded and self-sustaining solutions; and is being accomplished through the intentional inclusion of multiple stakeholders who might otherwise be competitors.

Ms. Davis’ initiatives strive to not only be enabling, but also empowering and self-generating.  They include providing local communities with access to healthy foods, transportation and safe housing – critically and immediately important efforts!   But, they go beyond that – to actually providing employment to local citizens.  And even beyond that – to actively supporting local entrepreneurs and small businesses – teaching them how to grow their businesses and become even more entrepreneurial.

Hang onto your seats (or earbuds) folks.  Ms. Davis is a powerhouse!  All of her talent and energy is highly purpose-driven and laser-focused on “eliminating” the adverse negative impacts of the social determinants of health.

There are numerous lessons to be learned from this interview – lessons that can translate into action.  My hope is that you’ll share this interview with your local healthcare systems and local government, and begin to organize similar efforts.  And, if you’re engaged in similar ‘anchor’ strategy efforts, I would love to hear about it.  From my perspective, this interview is one of the most inspiring and potentially catalyzing dialogues posted on this podcast series to date.

As always, I hope you get as much out of this interview as I have!

Zeev Neuwirth, MD