A Look at the Socio-Economic Impacts on Your Health

HYANNIS – For Kumara Sidhartha, MD, medical director of Emerald Physicians, the Behavioral Health Provider Coalition of Cape Cod’s upcoming fifth annual Behavioral Health Summit is the perfect venue to address the links between social and economic factors and one’s overall health.

“Many physicians are beginning to look beyond just mental and physical body elements and are taking one’s social determinants into account,” he said. “And this summit can give the community an understanding of where healthcare is headed in this context.”

Dr. Sidhartha, who has a master’s degree in public health, will deliver the keynote address at the Summit entitled: “Social Determinants of Health: Challenges & Opportunities for Physical and Mental Healthcare.” The event will take place on Oct. 6 at the Resort and Conference Center on Route 132 in Hyannis.

Dr. Sidhartha will set the tone for the event, and Dan Millman, author of his “Peaceful Warrior” series, is the speaker who will close out the summit.

The day-long event runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and also features morning and afternoon break-out sessions which include:

  • Housing & Homelessness: a workshop which will address homelessness and housing instability due to extreme poverty, trauma, violence, mental illness, addiction or other chronic health conditions; and how homelessness impacts mental and physical health trajectories.
  • Food Access & Nutrition: a session, led by Dr. Sidhartha, which will teach attendees about food access and insecurity in patient care, and how nutrition choices impact behavioral health.
  • Community Responses to Violence: will address costs associated with trauma and violence and how trauma and violence transcend age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
  • Understanding Child Sexual Abuse as a Public Health Problem: This session will provide an overview of adverse childhood experiences, including child sexual abuse, which that can lead to high-risk health behaviors that can contribute to leading causes of disease.

Establishing Relationships

Seventy-five percent of a person’s mental and physical health is determined by social factors like poverty, housing, violence and education, according to Diane Ofria, psychiatric nurse practitioner for the partial hospital program at Cape Cod Hospital and Coalition co-chair. The summit was designed to not only educate participants on these distinct social issues, but also offer resources and solutions, she said.

“Studies have found that when people suffer traumas, whether it be emotional or sexual abuse, they have also reported a much higher rate of medical calamities like heart disease, cancer, and shorter life spans,” Ofria said. “We want to encourage healthcare networks and providers to not only assess mental and physical ailments, but also contributing social problems.”

The workshops can also help raise awareness about the kind of patients that are seeking help and resources in the area, said Pat Durgin, director of Clinical Programming-Acute at the Center for Behavioral Health in Hyannis. The break-out sessions will pinpoint social issues that are unique to the Cape. While elder care is a well-known concern throughout the Cape area, attendees may not be aware that young adults can also suffer from isolation and loneliness, due to a myriad of behavioral issues, she said.

“We have a high percentage of people that struggle with alcohol, an opiate situation going on, an affordable housing crisis, as well as a really high suicide rate,” Durgin said. “These are risks that distinguish the Cape from other areas and we want people to know and understand what our community faces as a whole.”

Bringing Stakeholders Together

Ofria said the Summit will be beneficial for representatives from across the behavioral health spectrum, including physicians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, administrators, peer advocates, first responders, public safety, religious leaders, teachers, and other health professionals.

“Whether it’s a behavioral health issue or something on a spiritual and religious level, it’s important to establish relationships so we can help patients collectively,” Ofria said. “This is a special opportunity to address community problems on a higher level.”

The coalition, which was formed in 2013, as well as the Summit, were established to not only address the fragmentation and confusion surrounding the behavioral health services available to the Cape and Islands community, but to also bring together a diverse group of community stakeholders that are willing to work collaboratively.

For Dr. Sidhartha, who has never before attended the Summit, it’s the work of the coalition, as well as this kind of forum that can help health professionals widen their view and take on a more patient-centered approach.

“We want to create a healthcare system without walls, unfolding out into the community where people live, work, study and play,” he said. “So that physicians and primary care providers can see an individual patient as a whole person whose health is impacted by involuntary socio-economic forces within the community they live in.”

Working together with Summit supporters Duffy Health Center, Gosnold on Cape Cod, Cape Cod Healthcare, Vinfen and the Cape Cod 5 Foundation, Durgin said the Cape’s healthcare services will continue to grow and thrive.

“All the members of our coalition want to make this community a better place for people with a myriad of challenges,” she said. “And we’re really proud of that.”

By RACHAEL DEVANEY, Cape Cod Health News

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