UnitedHealthcare funds social determinants of health curriculum

New Mexicans will soon be able to pilot a new cross-campus program focused on identifying and addressing social determinants of health with a certificate being offered by The University of New Mexico (UNM). The rollout at UNM’s campus is a first step in making the program available to stakeholders throughout the state.

Understanding how the conditions in which we live and work affect our well-being, including factors such as housing, food security and transportation, can provide a base for how and when health issues may arise. These concepts, also known as social determinants of health, can ultimately help build an approach to improve health equity.

“It’s well known by providers but has previously gone unaddressed and given few resources and support to tackle the discrepancy,” said Arthur Kaufman, MD, vice president for Community Health at UNM Health Sciences. “We have lots of health problems, but the origin of those health problems is often based on social determinants.”

Since November 2022, UnitedHealthcare of New Mexico has invested a total of $180,000 for the design, creation and implementation of a modular curriculum that will offer training in social determinants of health via a certificate program.

The funding is also being used toward the growth of the College of Population Health for students, faculty and supplies, as well as implementing best practices to successfully address social determinants of health for New Mexicans.

Participants of the certificate will gain an understanding of the behavioral, psychological and structural factors that contribute to health inequities. The certificate program will also be tailored differently under different UNM colleges – not just with Health Sciences – showing that understanding social determinants of health is important in many different disciplines.

“The real experts in housing are in architecture and planning. The real experts on transportation are in civil engineering. The real experts on all of the legal issues that entangle us with social determinants of health are in the law school,” Kaufman said. “We’re wanting everyone to build it together, so everyone can bring their expertise as we fashion this curriculum.”

The social needs of those in New Mexico are acute:

  • New Mexico has one of the highest poverty rates in the country at over 18%.
  • More than 30% of New Mexico residents over the age of 62 experience severe housing challenges, including lack of plumbing and kitchen facilities and overcrowding or cost burdens.
  • Native American households who experience housing issues are disproportionately affected, at more than 29%.
  • In New Mexico, 1 in 5 children faced hunger in 2020. Food insecurity has broad effects on overall health, and is associated with multiple chronic health conditions and mental health disorders.

“We’re hoping that all people in health sciences have a good grounding in the social determinants of health, but also to keep people’s interest up in how they influence the overall health outcomes,” said Andrew Peterson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of New Mexico.

Andrew said he hopes the certificate will encourage people seeking health sciences degrees to stay in New Mexico after graduating.

“We’re thinking of the overall health care worker shortage in New Mexico and how we can get people into that space where they can work in their local community or somewhere else in the state,” he said.

UNM Health Sciences leaders are aiming to launch the Social Determinants of Health Certificate this fall.

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