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Shrinking the lifespan gap for Atlanta’s most vulnerable neighborhoods

Research shows that your zip code matters more than your genetic code in determining whether you live or die. For example, families living in Atlanta’s Westside have a life expectancy of 13 years less than those living in Atlanta’s wealthiest neighborhoods. The Good Samaritan Health Center (Good Sam) is working to eliminate this gap by boosting healthy living and health education with their Full Circle of Health initiative.

Veronica Squires, chief development officer at Good Sam, knows all too well how environment can affect health. Her own family moved to the 30310 zipcode—which, for over a decade, has been one of the Atlanta neighborhoods with a 13-year lifespan gap—in an effort to undertake community redevelopment and “change the world.” The result: Even as a dual-income family with a strong safety net and education, the impact of community conditions—a lack of fresh food options, the fear of walking alone, and the nighttime sounds of gunshots and violence—took its toll, leaving her family discouraged and ill. She realized that in the case of people who have the added stressors of financial strain, family dysfunction, or “fill in the blank,” the difficulties would be almost insurmountable.

Intentionally located in a Health Professional Shortage Area, Good Sam has served the uninsured and vulnerable in the Atlanta metro region since 1999 with primary care, dental care, and psychiatric care. In doing so, said Squires, they have discovered that health care is only the first step in improving health outcomes. In order to truly improve the health of residents, Good Sam has developed an integrated model known as the Full Circle of Health, encompassing not only medical care, dental care and mental health counseling and psychiatry, but health education and healthy living as well. This includes nutrition counseling, an urban farm and food distribution, an on-site pharmacy, case management, specialty care, and soon an on-site fitness center.

One key to the success of this model is linking arms strategically with other nonprofits in the city to address what the medical world terms the “social determinants” of health. For example, said Squires, if a homeless patient comes to Good Sam through their homeless clinic and receives treatment to stabilize their diabetes or schizophrenia, they still won’t have a home to live in. That’s where the partnership piece comes in: joining with the City of Atlanta's Continuum of Care program, or other partners, Good Sam can get people the additional support they need to complete their “Full Circle of Health.”

Scaling impact while leading the sector

With an influx of requests for information on how to replicate their processes, Good Sam recognized they had a chance to help the sector as a whole, and scale their impact, by documenting their model and sharing their research. That led them to establish another critical component of the Full Circle of Health: the Good Samaritan Institute, which launched earlier this month. The three primary functions of the Institute are convening healthcare professionals, publishing cutting-edge research and best practices, and educating the next generation of providers to improve the quality of healthcare for those in need.

Since Georgia is the second largest state for charitable care—with 94 charitable clinics—there are a lot of opportunities to teach, and learn from, others in the sector. It also generates internal benefits: Collaborating or sharing information doesn’t just save time and resources for individual organizations and the larger nonprofit community, it also helps nonprofits define themselves as thought leaders. Furthermore, once individual nonprofits are influencing conversations, they are more likely to get a say in the larger, cross-section discussion of pressing social and economic issues. Sharing their expertise, not only with other nonprofits, but with those in the for-profit and government sectors, could yield immense collective impact. In today’s rapidly changing political landscape, this is a strategy worth considering.

As Good Sam continues to look for more ways to give back to the sector, it is clear that Atlanta's overall health will be greatly affected by the condition of our inner cities. With growing interest among government agencies, business interests, and individuals in restoring these areas, said Squires, Good Sam believes the work of their Full Circle of Health will help neighborhoods maintain longtime residents, while making them healthier, more self-sufficient, and better able to contribute to the community.

To find out more about The Good Samaritan Health Care Center, and how you can help their efforts to spread Christ's love through quality healthcare to those in need, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Jenna Ovett is communications coordinator at GCN.

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