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2020 Outlook: The Rise of SDOH Executives

The social determinants of health have a new champion sitting amongst the highest senior executives in healthcare organizations. Whether health systems call the position “President of SDOH” or some other title, these leaders serve as top executives with the mandate and power to design, orchestrate, and improve SDOH care models across the ever-more-complex ecosystems in place in communities across the country. The role exists in both healthcare delivery organizations and health insurance companies, and organizations as diverse as NYC Health + Hospitals, ProMedica, Centene, Oregon Health Authority, SSM Health, and Aetna.

Over the past five years, has noticed an increase in the number of organizations that designate a single executive to lead SDOH efforts across a business unit or an entire organization. We believe this trend closely aligns with the advent of the era of SDOH care. Now, more executives are prioritizing SDOH in their organization’s strategy, while also increasing their engagement in alternative payment models (value-based care). 

SDOH executives appear to wear many hats, but their job descriptions generally include the following commonalities:

  • Drive engagement within an ecosystem. Social determinants can’t be addressed within silos; they require participation from stakeholders across the community. It’s the role of the SDOH executive to develop a strategy for community engagement. As our friend Dr. Megan Sandel of Boston Medical Center has said, “While addressing housing isn’t medical work, it’s an innovation we need to be part of, just as much as new technology or type of pill. We see our role in the ecosystem as partnering with other sectors.”
  • Specialize in social focus areas. Housing is an example of an area where many provider and payer organizations are prioritizing their efforts. Boston Medical Center, UnitedHealthcare, and Denver Health are examples of this. Other organizations may choose to focus on food insecurity, such as ProMedica and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. CareMore, a Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid managed care organization, has uniquely decided to focus on loneliness among seniors.
  • Lead efforts across the organization. These initiatives are often high-profile efforts designed to support organizational branding and marketing efforts, business development strategies, and consumer engagement programs. For this reason, they require the support of employees across departments. SDOH executives are often senior leaders who have risen through the ranks within their organization and have experience leading multiple teams or departments. They are well-connected internally and have demonstrated expertise in motivating large teams.
Case Study: ProMedica, Ohio

ProMedica, an integrated delivery network based in Ohio, has taken a national leadership role in SDOH care strategies. In partnership with the Healthcare Anchor Network, they described how their organizational needs have changed over time. As ProMedica’s commitment to addressing the social determinants of health dramatically expanded in scope, a more formal infrastructure to support an effective and efficient process for implementing social determinant programming established. As a result, the operational implementation of local and regional social determinant programming became the responsibility of the ProMedica Physicians and the Continuum of Care Division, while further expansion of ProMedica’s national SDOH platform was driven by the Advocacy, Community, and Government Relations division. 

With this commitment to an “all-in” approach to addressing SDOH—including deeper deployment of comprehensive community benefit strategies, the launch of new local partnerships, the creation of an SDOH center for research, and the need to further integrate SDOH within clinical operations—a formalized strategic plan, budget, and staff was established. ProMedica’s effort is led by Kate Sommerfeld, ProMedica’s first President of Social Determinants of Health, who reports directly to both the CEO and Chief Medical Officer.

As with many SDOH executives, Sommerfeld previously worked at ProMedica as a senior executive in the areas of advocacy and community impact. She has deep experience leading programs that support key social and economic needs in the communities that ProMedica serves. Under her leadership, ProMedica has combined community-based solutions, clinical care and research, in alignment with their enterprise population health strategies.

Is your organization next?

We expect to see the number of SDOH executives and departments rise in number in 2020 and beyond. To find out more about how organizations can take a leadership role in SDOH care, check out our recent webinar, Winning in the Era of SDOH Care. 

View the webinar recording