Health Departments Provide Essential Support to Multisector Community Partnerships Working to Address Social Determinants of Health

Health departments help address social determinants of health by providing critical support to multisector community partnerships, including funding, technical assistance, and connecting organizations with shared missions.

Social determinants of Health (SDOH) contribute to disparities in chronic disease outcomes and addressing SDOH is necessary for advancing health equity. Multisector community partnerships (MCPs) help build local capacity to address SDOH, contribute to community changes that promote healthy living, and help improve health outcomes among community members. State and local health departments are often members or leaders of MCPs. However, few studies have examined the role of health departments in supporting MCPs’ SDOH initiatives. As part of the Improving Social Determinants of Health – Getting Further Faster (GFF) evaluation, we engaged 42 established MCPs to learn more about how health departments support MCPs’ SDOH work and opportunities for enhanced collaboration. Almost all 42 GFF MCPs partnered with health departments and 10 partnered with both state and local health departments. 

Key Getting Further Faster Findings

  • State and local health departments played a critical role in supporting MCPs’ SDOH initiatives through the provision of funding and tangible resources, such as health communication materials and workspace.
  • Some MCPs reported that partnering with health departments helped increased their credibility with funders and decisionmakers, which was important for obtaining support for SDOH initiatives.
  • Health departments helped grow MCPs by fostering new relationships with other community organizations working to address SDOH.
  • In some cases, health departments’ funding restraints and competing priorities limited collaboration with MCPs.

Implications for Policy and Practice

 Health departments can provide essential support to MCPs’ SDOH initiatives, including:

  • funding and other resources to help support and sustain MCPs local SDOH initiatives;
  • training and technical assistance on community needs and strengths assessments and funding acquisition, for example;
  • connecting community organizations working to address SDOH to help strengthen MCPs; and
  • subject matter expertise and evaluation support, including helping to measure the implementation and impact of MCPs’ SDOH initiatives.

Health departments need sufficient resources to provide these key supports to MCPs in addition to managing their core health programs and responding to public health emergencies.

Read the full practice brief report in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice:  

Kyle Emery, MS, is a research public health analyst at RTI International. His areas of research and evaluation include food security, diabetes, sodium reduction, and health care delivery. He received his Professional Science Masters of Nutrition from North Carolina State University.

Laura Arena, MPH, is a research public health analyst in RTI International’s Community and Workplace Health Program. She specializes in qualitative and mixed-methods program evaluation and has more than a decade of experience evaluating chronic disease interventions. Ms. Arena received her MPH from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, is the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Officials (ASTHO). Before joining ASTHO, he served as the health director for Mecklenburg County, NC. Dr. Plescia earned his MD and MPH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Stephanie Weiss is director of chronic disease at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). She oversees NACCHO’s work to build local health departments’ capacity for implementing, evaluating, and sustaining evidence-based chronic disease interventions in their communities.

Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, is the director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). Before joining NCCDPHP, Dr. Hacker served as director of the Allegheny County Health Department. Dr. Hacker received her MD from Northwestern University and MPH from Boston University.

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