Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Pandemic Underscores Criticality of Addressing Social Determinants

Pandemic Underscores Criticality of Addressing Social Determinants

There is a great deal of interest these days in the social determinants of health. What do people mean when using this term? Social determinants of health are the conditions of the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and grow older—factors that affect a wide range of health, quality-of-life risks, and outcomes. Some examples include access to health care, safe housing, transportation, education, job opportunities, income, access to nutritious foods, physical activity opportunities, and quality of air and water.

In her book The Social Determinants of Health: Case Management’s Next Frontier, Ellen Fink-Samnick lists these as the five most common social determinants:

1. Housing
2. Food insecurity
3. Unemployment
4. Isolation
5. Low health and language literacy

Obviously, these apply to Lubbock. Some have shifted due to the pandemic or even become more evident. Of course, we serve an area much broader than Lubbock proper, but let’s think about the situation in Lubbock for the purpose of this article. 

A saying that recently gained popularity in the midst of the pandemic comes to mind: “We are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.” Simply stated: we all are experiencing a pandemic, but have different experiences, levels of access, and advantages that put us in different boats than our neighbors. (Being on the TTUHSC ship during the pandemic—with work from home opportunities for many, benefits, and salary continuation is something for which we are all profoundly grateful.)

To bring more complexity to that thought: social determinants of health affect the care we receive, recovery, and even mortality. Employment affects income and access to medical insurance through an employer. Where you reside can affect your health and safety depending on environmental and physical factors, as well as proximity to health care facilities and providers. Additionally, social involvement and healthy personal relationships can affect mental health. We have all heard stories about the negative consequences of social isolation. 

The Texas Workforce Commission reported Lubbock’s unemployment rate for February 2021 was 6%. Not long ago it was 3%. We see many businesses around us that have closed.

In 2018, Feeding America reported 15.3% of our citizens were food insecure (that’s more than 46,000 people in Lubbock County). Reports from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and South Plains Food Bank confirm that number has risen, especially during the course of the pandemic. In my opinion, we are very blessed to have the South Plains Food Bank in our county.

The Point in Time report from the Texas Homeless Network reports 283 individuals in Lubbock County are experiencing homelessness. Open Door is but one local organization trying to address this critical issue. 

My point in writing about these matters – let’s be alert to the “other fellow’s” plight and, as we have opportunity, to be helpful.