Better outcomes, lower costs: Arizona-based nonprofit moves to address social determinants of health in LA

An Equality Health Foundation volunteer hands out food items at a health festival in Phoenix, AZ, on Nov. 19, 2022. Photo courtesy of Equality Health Foundation

Social determinants of health, such as housing and food security, access to education and transportation, are receiving increasing attention as a way to improve patient outcomes and lower health care costs. An Arizona-based nonprofit focused on addressing them recently announced its plans to expand to Louisiana, with a focus on the Lake Charles area.

Equality Health Foundation, the charitable arm of health care management company Equality Health LLC, is planning to partner with Louisiana organizations to help connect residents to available services, such as housing and transportation assistance; raise money for scholarships to increase diversity in the medical field; and provide direct assistance, such as food donations, to those in need.

The foundation is active in several states outside of Arizona, including Texas, and is now expanding to Louisiana and Virginia.

“We’re looking for states that are open to transformation,” said Tomás León. And while Louisiana has persistently struggled when it comes to health, social determinants included, the state is home to a number of initiatives that experiment with nontraditional ways of addressing health issues — and paying for them.

Louisiana is one of several states expanding access to doula services for pregnant women by allowing state Medicaid plans to cover them.

A national nonprofit recently announced plans to expand a “food as medicine” program to Acadiana that has already operated in the St. Tammany area for several years. Through its pilot programs, the organization hopes to show the effectiveness of that approach and potentially motivate the state to include food assistance as part of its Medicaid program as well.

Local organizations such as Beacon Health Connections in Lafayette and Lake Charles help address social determinants of health in collaboration with hospital systems to reduce readmissions and improve patient outcomes.

After conversations with government leaders and organizations providing services in Louisiana, León said Equality Health decided the state had the right framework in place for the foundation to be effective here. The company, Equality Health LLC, which offers technology, training, practice management and care management support to physicians to help them meet standards set forth by state Medicaid programs, expanded to Louisiana last year.

The company and foundation work hand in hand to improve the impact of medical services provided to patients, León noted. While the company’s care management services help doctors ensure their toughest cases receive proper follow-up and any assistance they need, for example, the foundation’s mission is to provide that assistance to the broader community.

“Where you live determines your health and well-being. Your built environment, housing, food, transportation, education,” León said. And inadequate access to those resources drives up health care costs, for example, by causing hospital readmissions and worsening existing health conditions, he added.

“All those factors have been hidden cost drivers in health care,” León said. “We need to start focusing on investing in these social supports, these hidden cost drivers that have been causing our country a lot of expense and poor outcomes.”

As one of its first actions in Louisiana, the foundation plans to host a health festival in Lake Charles. Health Equity Foundation usually hosts one such festival per year in the states it is active in, focusing on one region where it sees the most need.

In Lake Charles, the foundation plans to host the event, which will feature free food, free health screenings and assistance in accessing support services, in late summer. In addition to the standard offerings, León said the foundation also hopes to provide assistance related to hurricane preparedness and students’ return to school.

In addition to its health festivals, the foundation also plans to raise money for scholarships that will allow access to medical education to a diverse pool of prospective students. Such programs have become increasingly popular, with universities in Louisiana offering student financial assistance to complete their practical training, for example, in the fields of respiratory therapy and mental health counseling.

As a first-generation college graduate himself, León said he knows the challenges of completing a college education, and financial support is only part of the solution the foundation is hoping to provide.

“There were more than just financial barriers that I had to overcome,” León said. “Mentors and other support I got helped me stay in college and earn my college degree.” Now, through his work with the foundation, he hopes to pay it forward. “That’s our way to invest in the next generation of health care professionals,” he added.

The foundation plans to partner with local nonprofits and service providers to fundraise and provide assistance to residents in need.” We can’t help individuals achieve optimal health and well-being without addressing those root causes, those social determinants of health, affecting people,” León said. “It’s all about bringing community together.”

About Equality Health Foundation

Established in 2019, Equality Health Foundation envisions a world of vibrant and inclusive communities where all individuals have the opportunity to live healthy lives. A bold vision like this cannot be accomplished alone and requires extensive collaboration across local communities around the country to make a sustainable and transformative change—a movement for advancing equal health for all. For more information about Equality Health Foundation, visit or follow @EQHFoundation on Facebook, @EQHFoundation on Twitter, and @eqhfoundation on LinkedIn.


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