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Addressing Social Determinants of Health in Williamsburg

The William & Mary Health Policy Journal Club and the Schroeder Center for Health Policy recently hosted a talk, “Addressing Social Determinants of Health in the Williamsburg Area,” with Carol Sale and Paulette Parker from the Williamsburg Health Foundation (WHF).  The WHF is a non-profit organization that works to improve the health and well-being of individuals living in the Greater Williamsburg area. Ms. Sale is WHF’s President and CEO, and Ms. Parker is a Senior Program Officer.

Ms. Sale began the talk with a brief history of the WHF and described how the foundation distributes approximately $5 million annually in grant funding to nonprofits that provide services to Williamsburg residents. She explained how many factors influence a person’s health, focusing in particular on social determinants of health -- where people live, what they eat, their modes of transportation, their wealth, their employment status, and their social support system. With the ongoing eviction crisis and wave of unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Sale mentioned that it is more important than ever to address social determinants of health.

Ms. Parker then described that while Williamsburg is relatively affluent and has a high median household income, the area is economically polarized and that there are several pockets of intense need.  She explained that this situation influenced the WHF to support the Greater Williamsburg Chronic Care Collaborative (GWCCC), which works with local clinics to address access to food, access to healthcare, and housing stability. 

When asked about case management, Ms. Parker noted that hospitals are getting better because they are fined for readmissions, which makes it profitable to keep track of social determinants of health. Ms. Sale also stressed that new Medicare rules that encourage better tracking of social determinants are starting to spill over into private insurance policies, which makes case management much easier.

In responding to a question about the top social determinants of health in the Williamsburg area, Ms. Sale replied that one of the most common is access to social support services like food stamps, which many residents may be eligible for without realizing it. She added that the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent wave of evictions have made housing stability a major priority of the WHF. Ms. Parker stated that internet access has also become incredibly important during the pandemic because of the growing popularity of telehealth services and that most vaccine information is distributed online.

In closing, Ms. Sale and Ms. Parker stressed the important role that WHF plays in building partnerships and coalitions within the Greater Williamsburg community.  Ms. Sale reported that the foundation will keep building partnerships to address housing stability for as long as funding allows. Funding is always finite, and she noted that one of the hardest parts of working in the nonprofit sector is having to say no to groups that are doing important work.

The presentation was a powerful glimpse into the world of nonprofit health policy work. Ms. Sale and Ms. Parker demonstrated how the WHF and other similar organizations provide a vital role in protecting the health and well-being of local communities.