Integrating Public Data Systems and Social Determinants of Health in Coastal Texas At-Risk Neighborhoods

Principal Investigator

The purpose of this transdisciplinary project is to provide decision-makers and communities in Nueces County, Texas with useful social determinants of health (SDOHs), environmental, and climate data that can be integrated in public health systems for health equity planning and decision-making in at-risk communities.

In the U.S. Gulf of Mexico region, there has been limited meaningful involvement of underserved and underrepresented communities in the systems and institutions that design and implement the laws, regulations, policies, and practices affecting them.  This limitation contributes to an inequitable concentration of substandard socioeconomic and environmental factors (e.g., healthcare access, education, food access, air pollution, flooding, water contamination, etc.) and health outcomes in marginalized communities. Advancing health equity involves looking critically at the conditions and environments that deny people the opportunity to achieve their full health potential. Specific conditions, known as social determinants of health (SDOHs), shape the environments of everyday life that influence the health and well-being of communities.

Community work is needed to create conditions that influence opportunities for health and well-being. A foundational step is understanding locally relevant SDOHs, which play a critical role in identifying and explaining the root causes of health disparities. Specifically, SDOHs can significantly exacerbate unequal exposure to climate and environmental risks in marginalized communities and amplify health disparities. By examining SDOHs linked to climate and environmental factors, we can develop strategies to protect the health of at-risk communities and neighborhoods. Understanding linkages across SDOHs, the environment, climate and health equity requires collaboration among public health, healthcare, social services,  environmental, and community-based organizations. It also necessitates integrating community perspectives into decision making processes to ensure interventions and policies are responsive to unique needs and challenges of communities.

The project will ensure interventions that address health disparities are tailored to the needs and challenges faced by at-risk communities in Nueces County through better infusing public policy and community leaders with data they need to drive evidence-based approaches.  In particular, the project will work with public and private health officials and community leaders to investigate the role SDOH data could play in improving understanding of health disparities in at-risk communities, and to advance strategies that can integrate such data in public and private health data systems. To do so, the work incorporates the principles of Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) through a mixed-methods approach to analyze linkages between major health disparities, SDOHs, and environmental and climate factors, with focus on flooding, storms, urban heat, and air quality. The project has four overarching aims:

  1. Empower local residents in Nueces County neighborhoods to understand and take action on factors that impact their health.
  2. Co-develop a Data Integration Framework to operationalize incorporation of SDOHs, climate and environmental data into public health systems.
  3. Integrate project findings and tools into health assessments, programs, and services i.e., Health District Community Needs Assessment, Driscoll Patient Safety Program, Amistad services, and additional project partner agendas, plans and policies.
  4. Provide a visual, open-source geospatial Health Equity Tool on the GeoRED platform to enable diverse partners to assess and incorporate linkages in public policy, hazards response and decisions about resource allocation.

New project data paired with existing data will support the creation of the GeoRED Health Equity Tool and accompanying story map, both of which will enable improved local decision-making based on a more holistic approach to public health. All of this will be captured in a Comprehensive Action Strategy, with detailed plans for how collected data will inform specific local and regional health systems.

Importantly, through the co-production process, many community-based partners and local health experts are being engaged in this project from its start and will continue contributing their knowledge, perceptions, experiences, and expertise through an Action Committee designed to guide project development, data, outputs, and outcomes. Stay tuned for more information about the Committee and its work.