The world of healthcare is slowly acknowledging what community-based social service workers have known for decades—health happens at home.

Helping to maintain and sustain older adults’ highest possible level of functioning and the best quality of life has been the undertaking of community-based services.

Yet, the medical world has little knowledge of the array of services that can and should be provided, which would not only complement medical care, but could help to improve it.

A recent article by Terry Fulmer and Nora OBrien-Suric of Aging Today, a bimonthly newspaper for the American Society on Aging, reported on a 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey (Health Care’s Blind Side: The Overlooked Connection Between Social Needs and Good Health) of 1,000 primary care physicians that revealed that 86 percent felt “unmet social needs are leading directly to worse health” across all socioeconomic groups, and that it is as important to address these factors as it is to address patients’ medical conditions.

To meet older adults’ health needs and support their well-being, the healthcare system, which encompasses hospitals and health plans, must address the critical social service needs that will ensure better health outcomes, including the need for adequate nutrition; transportation to medical appointments, the pharmacy and the grocery store; assistance with medications; personal care in the home; and caregiver support, the article states.

To foster this integration in the new and fast-changing healthcare landscape, social service agencies must create business partnerships with the healthcare system to identify and integrate social services.

Seizing this dramatic opportunity for system redesign will require new business relationships between the social service and healthcare sectors. Both must be readied for this change.

The healthcare sector will benefit from knowing the value of social services to their patients’ health and to the health system’s bottom line. The social service sector, including area agencies on aging and other local aging and disability organizations, must be prepared to demonstrate that they can deliver the quality, volume, confidentiality, geographic coverage, data and reporting needs of the healthcare system.

The mission of The John A. Hartford Foundation is to improve care for older people. For more than 30 years, the Foundation has provided funding to increase the number of healthcare professionals trained in geriatrics, as well as to develop models of care for older adults.

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