Presenter Spotlight: 2019 National Summit

Kelly Bruno, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Health Foundation

Our Presenter Spotlight Series highlights the dozens of leaders in the movement to build health equity who will present their ideas at the 2019 National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health in San Diego, Calif. Register now to reserve your place at the Summit.

Addressing the systematic factors that cause health inequities in our communities is a challenge but a priority for the National Health Foundation. By framing tactics through the lens of advocacy, the National Health Foundation has made insurmountable progress in minimizing the systemic effects of lack of housing, food access, and poor health care access throughout Southern California.

Kelly Bruno, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Root Cause Coalition Partner, National Health Foundation, believes that while all social determinants of health have a unique impact, access to housing has the power to improve a wide range of other health outcomes including, but not limited to, accessibility to jobs, food, schools, and more. These are all factors that make life more equitable for our communities.

Prioritizing housing accessibility is a pillar of the NHF’s mission to improve the health of individuals living in under-resourced communities. Research has shown that inadequate housing is directly linked to adverse health outcomes and therefore can be a barrier to leading a happy and healthy life.

According to a report conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 552,830 people experienced homelessness in a single night in America in 2018. In 2017, 6.7 million households spent more than 50% of their income on rent.  In order to address this rising crisis, the NHF has dedicated time and resources to working with local communities in Southern California to secure stable housing for those experiencing homelessness. They introduced a recuperative housing program in 2008 that provides temporary crisis housing for homeless patients discharged from hospitals. While in temporary housing, NHF also assists individuals with finding permanent housing, health services, and substance abuse assistance.

This program has had a profound impact on the community. Through their services, NHF has helped more than 4,000 individuals discharged to the recuperative care program with one in four clients eventually placed in permanent or supportive housing. Such efforts have allowed for $35 million to be saved in hospital and healthcare costs.

Bruno will serve as one of the speakers in the session titled “Changing NIMBY to YIMBY in the Fight for Health Equity” and will discuss the creation and progress of NHF’s recuperative care program. This session will focus on shifting the narrative from ‘Not In My Backyard’ to ‘Yes In My Backyard.’ This idea is in reference to the opposing sides of urban development in big cities. This conversation amongst leaders in the field will seek to start a conversation on breaking down the barriers between those who seek to preserve their neighborhoods and those who want to expand and build upon the preexisting urban environment and focus on how to work towards achieving health equity across cities and states.

When first engaging with insufficient and inadequate housing, Bruno quickly realized that her organization needed to be strategic when entering communities to help them combat certain health inequities. Being culturally aware is essential. Cultural competence refers to the practice of communicating with others in a way that incorporates positive attitudes and understanding towards cultural differences. “Oftentimes when we help this population (communities that struggle with homelessness and hunger), we assume that we know what’s best for them. We assume that we know what they want. And we also make a lot of assumptions … that what we provide is better than what they have,” Bruno said. The individuals that NHF serves often share a common message: “Trust us. We know what we need and we know how to fix the problems in our communities, we don’t need somebody to come save us. We want to be included in these decisions and we want you to tell us what’s going on.” It is important to include community members in these conversations rather than creating initiatives without their feedback because no one knows their communities better than they do.

In the same vein, Bruno reinforces the importance of her organization to represent the communities they serve. Namely, the importance of hiring from the community and recognizing one’s own role and perspective based on their identity and level of privilege. Bruno emphasized this point when mentioning, “I am a white woman. And I am running an organization that serves under-resourced communities, which, for the most part, are communities of color. So then what do I have to do from a leadership perspective to ensure that message translates and transcends through the organization?…I have to surround myself with a leadership team that also reflects those that we serve and to take a backseat to them.” This perspective is essential when working in the field of health equity because one can’t successfully help a community without incorporating their voices and understanding their personal experience. “We want the programs that we provide to be sustainable. We want the organization to be sustainable and the speed of growth that we have has to reflect that.”