An ambitious group of foundations selected Be There San Diego to be one of six organizations in California to build a local coalition to prevent chronic diseases decades before patients land in a hospital.
This new coalition will be called an Accountable Communities for Health, or ACH for short. Here’s the thinking: The way to create true health is found outside of a doctor’s office, working to develop community conditions that create health from childhood, such as having safe places to exercise or access to nutritious food.
It’s evident that the communities that don’t have these resources suffer the greatest burden of disease, despite advances in medical care.
On April 12, we brought together about 100 leaders to introduce them to this concept and to invite them to join the ACH we’re building for San Diego. They came from the County Office of Education as well as individual schools, faith organizations, academia, national and regional foundations, and from health-related organizations, including the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, healthcare systems, community clinics, mental health agencies and a variety of small and large nonprofits.
One of our friends, Dr. Robert Ross, the president and CEO of The California Endowment and the former director of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, set the inspirational tone for our meeting. He talked about how the presidential election has implications for how we frame our work together and the power of narratives to do lasting harm or extraordinary good.
Dr. Ross shared with us his prescription of how we should move forward:
Set a lofty, challenging, values-driven vision that calls for quality health for all communities, not just some.
Include the meaningful, authentic community and grassroots participation of the people whose lives we’re trying to positively impact. They will bring passion to our work and will be important voices in the fights that will be had to implement our vision.
Work on “Health Reform 3.0” now, which he defined as tackling the social determinants of health to improve the community’s health. That’s what the ACH is all about, in fact.
He said we have the opportunity to create a state and national model of how partners can come together to improve conditions in a community, paving the way for lasting improvement in the health of its residents.
We also heard from Stacy Becker, the Vice President for Programs at ReThink Health, which is based in New Jersey. The organization works with a variety of leaders in several states as they redesign their health systems to develop their own accountable communities.
Elizabeth Bustos, Be There San Diego’s Director of Community Engagement, recognized that our work on this project would involve some hard conversations, collectively and individually.
“We’re going to talk about the community realities that slap you in the face every day,” she said, including power, privilege, and inclusivity.
And while the ACH would examine data, she underscored that each data point would be recognized for what it was, “one heart beat.”
The collective genius of the partners in the room, along with their amazing grace, would combine to create innovative ways to produce true health justice, she predicted.
Our executive director, Kitty Bailey, said the ACH partners would confront fundamental issues as they worked together to develop a lasting infrastructure that in turn would foster and sustain a healthy community.
“We want to talk about power, accountability and money; who gets it and who does not.”
She outlined four main areas of work that our ACH will undertake in the next 2½ years:
To develop a shared vision among the partners of how to achieve community conditions to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
To focus our initial efforts in Southeastern San Diego, which has the region’s highest rates of cardiovascular disease. This work will involve gaining a better understanding of the conditions there, the available resources and the barriers to the good health of the residents.
To gather, analyze and share clinical and community data to better understand what is happening in the community and why.
The director invited all those on hand to join our Accountable Community for Health, and announced that the next two meetings would be on June 21 an Aug. 23.
“This is a journey about the heart,” she concluded.
It’s about the heart that beats inside of us that we’re working to keep healthy.
“And it’s about the heart that allows us to love and to care for one another.”