Kaiser Permanente Community Fund
The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund: Focusing on where health begins
The mission of the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at the Northwest Health Foundation is to improve the health of communities throughout the Kaiser Permanente Northwest service region, with a specific focus on addressing the “upstream” factors that create or inhibit community health, also known as the social determinants of health. Since the first grant cycle in 2005, the Fund has seen a consistent increase in the number and quality of funding requests, as well as a deeper community appreciation of social determinants of health. Over the years, we have witnessed a broadened understanding of how non-medical factors influence health, and a reframing of how health is perceived and achieved in our region.
Since its launch, the Fund has considered proposals that have addressed any social determinant of health. Part of the Fund’s original rationale for this approach was to build community expertise and momentum in the field, a goal that appears to have been largely achieved. In light of this progress, the KPCF Advisors recently discussed how to achieve a greater impact with the remaining years of the Fund.
The Advisors decided that focusing funding on a few social determinants of health will allow for targeted investment and the greatest potential for social change. The three social determinants of health the KPCF Advisors have chosen— healthy beginnings and early childhood development; educational attainment; and economic opportunity — build on current community momentum, are supported by a strong evidence base, and present substantial opportunities for long-term impact. In addition, the Advisors found these three areas compelling because they reinforce each other by positively influencing different points along the life-course continuum. Advancements in each area can lead to both immediate, short-term health improvements for individuals and families, as well as healthier communities in the long term.
You can read a more in-depth analysis about how the Fund’s Advisors chose these focus areas here: Vision for a Healthier Region
The following cross-cutting values will continue to guide the work of KPCF, regardless of focus area: promoting social and racial equity; prioritizing community-driven strategies; promoting social cohesion; addressing the systemic causes of health outcomes and disparities; and strategically and appropriately applying the evidence base.
Healthy Beginnings and Early Childhood Development: Research has long established the critical role that the first few years of a child’s life play in their lifelong health, as well as their educational, economic and social success. Several KPCF grantees have focused their efforts on expanding access to quality early childhood development programs in order to set children on a positive life course. The prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is also included in this focus area. The groundbreaking 1997 ACEs Study revealed the associations between childhood trauma and its effects on health and well-being later in life. Finally, recent scientific findings reveal that we may need to be focusing even earlier: chronic mal-nutrition, stress and exposure to environmental toxins before pregnancy, during fetal development and during infancy significantly increase the likelihood of poor health outcomes for both mothers and future generations.
Educational Attainment: Few factors influence health more than educational attainment. For example, Americans with a college degree can expect to live nearly six years longer - with better overall health - than those who do not graduate from high school. Educational attainment rates vary greatly by race, ethnicity and socio-economic status in our region, and a number of our grantees are working to close these gaps and create better outcomes for all students.
Economic Opportunity: A healthy region requires a healthy economy. Access to stable, family-wage jobs has been shown to positively affect health, while a dearth of such opportunities compromises health. Our prolonged economic slump has revealed the limits of traditional top-down economic development strategies, which often leave behind those who could most benefit from more intentional efforts. Several KPCF grantees have created opportunities for economic advancement using more targeted, community-driven approaches, with encouraging results.