RISE looks at recent headlines concerning social determinants of health (SDoH).

UnitedHealth Group makes an additional $100M investment in Health & Housing Fund

The latest announcement brings the company’s total investment in addressing housing as a SDoH to nearly $800 million.

UnitedHealth Group has increased its investment in the Health & Housing Fund, a partnership with Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) and National Affordable Housing Trust (NAHT), by an additional $100 million, totaling a nearly $800 million investment to provide nearly 19,000 homes for vulnerable individuals and families, according to a recent announcement. UnitedHealth Group first announced its partnership with SAHF and NAHT in June 2020, which led to $118 million in funding for 15 affordable housing communities in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

The latest investment will result in more than 1,000 homes. Construction has already begun for three of the affordable housing communities, which will provide 250 homes for older adults and families, in East Point, Ga.; Monroe, N.C.; and Beaverton, Ore. The remaining housing community locations will be announced in the coming months.

“The need for affordable housing and the connection between housing and health continues to be top of mind throughout the communities we serve,” said Tim Spilker, chief executive officer, UnitedHealthcare Community & State, a UnitedHealth Group business, in the announcement. “Our work to address social determinants and help to create new affordable housing opportunities that include support services is driving better health outcomes for some of the nation’s most underserved populations.”

Study suggests increased awareness of COVID-19 racial disparities reduces white Americans’ safety precautions

Highlighting racial disparities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic may be backfiring, according to new research from the University of Georgia, which indicates that the increased awareness and media coverage of existing racial disparities amid the pandemic has actually reduced white Americans’ fear of COVID-19 as well as their empathy for people of color.

“Sharing this information could be doing the exact opposite of what we want it to do,” said Allison Skinner-Dorkenoo, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of psychology, in a statement. “Ignoring disparities can’t be the answer. But we need to be thinking about what role reporting and the sharing of this information might be playing in perpetuating or making the problem worse.”

The study, published in Social Science and Medicine, examined Americans’ perspectives and knowledge on topics such as COVID-19 infection rates and among white individuals in comparison to people of color, systemic and structural contributors to COVID-19 racial disparities, and disproportionate impacts due to employment.

As white individuals became more aware of the racial disparities, they also became less supportive of safety precautions, the study found. However, participants who acknowledged the structural causes that have contributed to the existing disparities were more fearful and supportive of safety measures.

SDoH limit access to needed specialty care

SDoH significantly limits access to lifelong specialty care required for people born with congenital heart disease (CHD), according to American Heart Association researchers, who recently published a scientific statement in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzing the impact of SDoH on people with congenital heart disease.

“Social determinants of health affect every single facet of CHD – from who is born with a heart abnormality to who is diagnosed prenatally, to outcomes of surgery, to clinical follow-up as well as transitioning to adult care,” said the chair of the statement writing group Keila N. Lopez, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of pediatrics and medical director of the transition medicine division of pediatric cardiology at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, in a statement.

While there have been advances in surgical and medical care of congenital hear defects, there have been few improvements in equitable access to care. As specialty care services are concentrated in urban areas, individuals who live in rural areas face additional barriers such as transportation and job flexibility to meet their health care needs, noted researchers.

Researchers called for a “multipronged approach” at the population, systemic, institutional, and individual level to address the existing inequities. Some of their recommendations include policy changes to improve insurance coverage; hospital investments in home monitoring and visitation programs and staff cultural competence programs; and increased availability and diversity of health care workers.