Health equity in motion with Haile Hernandez
Through conversations with Point32Health colleagues, our Health Equity in Motion series shines a light on health inequities happening within our communities and across the United States, as well as ways that we’re aiming to advance health equity for our members.
As the head of social determinants of health at Point32Health, Haile Hernandez has a deep understanding of social determinants of health and the impact they can have on health equity. We recently spoke with Haile to learn more about his role at Point32Health and the work his team of community health workers do to address food insecurity.
Q: At Point32Health, you currently work as the head of social determinants of health-health care services. What does your role entail?
Haile Hernandez: As the head of social determinants of health, I am responsible for overseeing the execution of Point32Health’s social determinants of health (SDOH) strategy to address social health disparities for members, patients and employees across our entire footprint, while also creating localized community-based solutions for specific communities, markets and populations as part of Point32Health’s mission to guide and empower healthier lives for all.
In addition, I am responsible for the end-to-end development, implementation and evaluation of SDOH programs, products and pilots within our care management program. I also oversee a team of 30 community health workers that work hand in hand with members across our family of companies to provide support to meet members’ SDOH needs.
Q: Why is it important for health plans to have community health workers available to work with members?
HH: Community health work is incredibly important to the services we provide to our members. Community health workers (CHW) are hired primarily for their understanding of the populations and communities they serve and spend a significant portion of their time conducting outreach in the community. They provide culturally appropriate health education, information and outreach in community settings, which can include homes, schools, clinics, shelters, local businesses and community centers.
The community health worker acts as the bridge between the member, the community and the health care system.
Community health workers are vital to health plans and care management programs as they engage members in regular assessments pertaining to SDOH, visits at regularly scheduled intervals and conduct urgent visits to ensure that each members’ plan of care is fully comprehensive and addresses significant medical, behavioral and social needs. They also advocate with members to overcome SDOH and health-related social needs barriers such as food insecurity, housing, health harming legal issues, access to health care and other social needs barriers impacting a member’s quality of life.
Q: Food insecurity continues to be an issue across the country, as well as in our own backyard. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest barriers people face when it comes to accessing healthy food?
HH: Unfortunately, our SDOH community health services team receives referrals for food insecurity every day. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2022, almost 13% of the U.S population has some level of food insecurity. This has only been exacerbated with inflation. We see members and families across our health plans with this concern. Some of the barriers faced are food deserts, increased prices of food and access to healthy and culturally competent foods.
This is an instance where our CHWs can help to address food insecurity by working with members to determine what resources are available in their communities. To provide assistance, the SDOH community health services team takes a holistic approach by examining if there are any benefits the member is eligible for, as well as any safety net services such as SNAP and WIC. They complete referrals to food pantries, encourage members to utilize local farmers markets or farm shares for fresh produce and provide culturally sensitive resources to ensure the member will want to engage with that resource. Food is so incredibly personal and cultural; we want to be sure we provide members with referrals that will respect and cater to their specific needs.
Q: Within our health plans, are there any programs in place to support members who may have trouble accessing healthy food?
HH: The SDOH community health services team supports members as part of our care management programs across Point32Health’s family of companies and provides support by navigating social care resources to address food insecurity, housing, health harming legal issues, access to health care and other social needs barriers impacting members quality of life.
In addition to the work CHWs do, Point32Health offers a variety of other food insecurity interventions and programs across our lines of business for eligible members:
- An SDOH fund that can be utilized to help members in our care management program purchase healthy groceries and fresh produce.
- A Flexible Services program that provides different food resources and assistance.
- A monthly free mobile food market in the Greater Boston area.
- A benefit with Moms Meals for members with chronic diseases such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other chronic medical conditions.
- Working with a vendor that provides nutrition education coaching and recipes.
- Collaborating with Women & Infants to offer support for high-risk pregnancies that includes receiving food from Meals on Wheels.
Starting in 2024, we will also be offering eligible members an OTC card benefit that can be used to purchase culturally appropriate healthy foods, as well as continuing to research and find other resources that may be beneficial to our members.