Health Equity

What Is Health Equity?

The Saint Luke’s Foundation's purpose begins with a commitment to health equity. 

A definition put forth by the Boston Public Health Commission summarizes this well:

“Health equity means that everyone has a fair opportunity to live a long, healthy life. It implies that health should not be compromised or disadvantaged because of an individual or population group's race, ethnicity, gender, income, sexual orientation, neighborhood or other social condition. Conversely, health inequities are differences in health that are not only unnecessary and avoidable but are considered unfair and unjust. Health inequities stem from social injustices that make some population groups more vulnerable to poor health than other groups”.

Race is the single biggest predictor of health inequity -- people of color experience worse health outcomes across a wide spectrum of diseases and conditions. Racial and ethnic health disparities exist even when controlled for other factors, such as socioeconomic status, education, individual behavior and health insurance status, and these disparities don’t connect to genetics. Race doesn’t even exist biologically. It is something we as a society have literally constructed.

The experiences of racism over a lifetime can increase chronic stress levels. Increased levels of chronic stress impose serious health threats. Racism can take many forms: whether internalized, interpersonal or systemic, racism influences how people are treated, what resources and jobs are available, where people are likely to live, and what chances communities have to reach their full potential. The Saint Luke’s Foundation wants to partner with our community to promote health equity and eliminate racism.

Theory of Change

According to the Health Equity Institute for Research, Practice & Policy at San Francisco State University, Health Equity is defined as "efforts to ensure that all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead healthy lives."

Drawn from: (1) The Bridgespan Group’s use of the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement, Going Beyond Clinical Walls: Solving Complex Problems by addressing Social Determinants of Health (October 2014) and (2) Boston Public Health Commission on ‘What is Health Equity?’. These percentages present what research has shown about what actually “influences the health and quality of life in communities”.

What Are Social Determinants of Health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "not just the absence of disease, but rather in the broad sense of physical, economic, emotional, and social well-being at an individual, family, and community level. Health is affected not only by individual risk factors and behaviors, but also by a range of economic and social conditions. These social determinants of health—the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, and age—are shaped by a variety of economic, social, and political policies and forces. These policies and forces—what the WHO describes as the social determinants of health inequities—in turn determine access to life chances and opportunities for health based on social markers of advantage and disadvantage such as race and ethnicity, class, and gender".

You will find many links in the Resources section of our website. The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation is well-regarded for their leadership in this work. In their article “A New Way to Talk about Social Determinants of Health”, they offer the following compelling statement:

“It’s time we made it possible for all Americans to afford to see a doctor, but it’s also time we made it less likely that they need to. Where people live, learn, work and play has an enormous impact whether they stay well in the first place. Health starts in strong, loving families and in neighborhoods with sidewalks safe for walking and grocery stores with fresh vegetables. Health starts in jobs we can get to without hours of commuting and in workplaces free of unnecessary hazards. Health starts in schools that educate our children for the jobs of the 21st century so they can compete in the world economy, that feed them healthy meals rather than junk foods, and that send them home safe at the end of the day. And health starts in having the time and financial resources to play at the end of the day because unrelieved stress takes its toll on our hearts and immune systems. As we work on fixing health care in America, we need to start where health starts, not just where it ends”.

For our purposes, we have isolated and articulated the following social determinants as being of primary importance in our mission and objectives: