A new model of care being piloted by Mercy Medical Center - Des Moines will make a greater effort to take patients’ basic needs into account using a “social determinants of health” approach. 

Mercy announced today it has been selected as one of three health systems operated by Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives to implement a 30-month trial of the new model. Mercy will introduce the program at two of its clinics, as well as with patients who use Mercy Clinics’ health coach services. 

The program, which was made possible by a $2.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with an equal match from CHI, will focus on both rural and urban primary care settings and includes hiring community health workers who will help patients access local health and social services. Mercy's share of the foundation grant is just over $1 million. 

“Considering the social determinants of health will be a standard of care in primary care practices in each of the three pilot markets, which will actively recruit and lead community partners in identifying and addressing the most important needs and issues facing their communities,” said Kevin Lofton, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives. The two other CHI health systems piloting the program are Centura Health in Colorado and Kansas, and KentuckyOne Health. 

Mercy Accountable Care Organization will coordinate efforts in Iowa and plans to hire community health workers to assist patients at Mercy Medical Clinic in Centerville and Mercy Clinics Family Medicine South in Des Moines, as well as patients who utilize services from health coaches through the Mercy Clinics’ system, officials said in a release. A spokeswoman said two community health workers will be hired in Des Moines and one in Centerville. 

“We’ll begin by working with our CHI colleagues to identify and address the social and environmental issues that affect well-being and health equity by integrating comprehensive screening for basic human needs into the primary care setting,” said Dr. David Swieskowski, chief accountable care officer for Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines. 

“Basic human needs represent a range of physical, social and psychological needs such as availability of food and safe housing, transportation, quality childcare, access to behavioral health service and social supports,” he said. “This initiative will foster collaboration with a wide array of community partners to address the issues that affect well-being, connecting patients with the local resources needed to improve their health – and their lives.” 

Mercy isn’t the only Iowa health system seeking to address social determinants of health. In January, Broadlawns Medical Center launched its Broadlawns Local initiative, a multifaceted effort to address social determinants of health for Des Moines residents in neighborhoods that surround the medical campus. That program incorporates training in health-care careers, and offers programs to address concerns related to physical activity, diabetes, nutrition and smoking.