“If you really want something to change in the world, you have to take bold steps, even when it’s uncomfortable.” This was the advice Melinda Gates shared with participants of Leading Across Systems: Exploring Opportunities to Connect Family Homelessness and Health. Hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with Building Changes, the May 27th event gathered 150 local leaders to discuss the future of health care for vulnerable families and opportunities for cross-sector partnerships.
Key themes we heard:
- Listen to the people: Dr. Ben Danielson of Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and the Washington Medical Legal Partnership reminded us not to assume we know what families need but rather to listen to them directly. Deb Rog, national homelessness evaluator with Westat. shared data from homeless families about stigma and challenges they sometimes face when accessing care.
- Leadership involves taking risks: Melinda Gates candidly offered an example of an initiative the Foundation invested in that didn’t achieve the goal of ending family homelessness and how they shifted gears.
- Now is the time: Dr. Bob Crittenden of Governor Inslee’s Office encouraged housing leaders to get involved in newly formed Accountable Communities of Health and explained that the state is considering significant changes to the way Medicaid pays for services through a federal waiver. Katy Miller of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness noted the alignment efforts among federal agencies to support housing and health partnerships.
Breakout groups for Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties addressed challenging cross-sector issues including addressing racial disparities and racial disproportionality in our systems, triage and access, and supporting families with complex needs. Participants forged new connections across sectors and stimulated ideas including:
- Case staffing between health centers and housing providers
- Ensuring that families with health needs are prioritized for housing resources
- Sharing assessments across systems to simplify access
The counties will continue their leadership to develop and bring some of these new ideas to fruition locally. “Systems change is hard—but it’s the biggest lever,” said Melinda Gates. As David Wertheimer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reminds us in his reflective blog post, “There’s too much to gain to not try.”
- Housing is Healthcare (David Wertheimer, Impatient Optimists, 6/2/15)
- Connecting the Dots between Housing, Homelessness, and Health
- Healthier Washington Initiative