Health isn’t just determined by eating right, staying fit and getting regular check-ups. Evidence is growing that other factors—the social determinants of health—have a huge impact on wellbeing and healthcare outcomes.  

The social determinants of health include variables such as income, educational opportunities, social support, access to housing, and neighborhood conditions and the physical environment. These social circumstances are now thought to underlie ailments such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression.  

Amid recognition of the impact of the social determinants of health, alliances are being formed between healthcare systems and senior living providers.  Take, for example, the recent joint venture between WesleyLife, a seniors housing and service provider, and Genesis Health System, a $1 billion hospital and healthcare network. Both serve the Quad Cities of eastern Iowa and western Illinois.   

The new partnership creates a comprehensive health and wellness network for seniors called WellSpire. It began operations July 1. 

The goal is to bring a new type of senior living to the Quad Cities. “Health systems are starting to understand the social determinants of health,” said Rob Kretzinger, president and CEO at WesleyLife, Johnston, Iowa. “We can have a big impact.” 

WellSpire, for example, can provide comprehensive follow-up care to elders returning home from the hospital. This can be a vulnerable time for elders, especially those who may live alone, and not have access to transportation and food.  

These social determinants of health are particularly prominent among so-called dual-eligible beneficiaries, seniors who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, according to Kretzinger. Social and nutritional support can help prevent rehospitalizations, he added, a goal of the new value-based healthcare system.  

WesleyLife has been moving toward a model of integrated care 

The organization operates 12 life plan communities. About 10 years ago, WesleyLife repositioned itself as a health and wellness organization. It expanded its network of services to include home health, hospice, adult day services, transportation and private duty home care.  

WesleyLife impacts about 8,000 seniors a year in a variety of settings. Care coordination acts as the stickiness between the services,” said Kretzinger. 

WesleyLife owns 60% of WellSpire, and Genesis owns 40%. WellSpire has assumed management of two senior living communities owned by Genesis. Plans are underway to upgrade the properties.  

WellSpire plans to break ground later this year for a new senior living community in Iowa, The Summit of Bettendorf. The group is also considering a project in Moline, Illinois.  

WellSpire is also offering a variety of services. Home health and hospice services will be provided by Genesis which already has robust operations in these areas. WesleyLife will provide private duty home care, adult day services, nutrition, and transportation. Other service partners may eventually be added.  

Care coordination 

Details on how WellSpire will implement care coordination across its properties and customer base are still being worked out. “We have just started the conversation about care pathways,” said Kretzinger. “We believe we can leverage each other’s strengths by coordinating care for seniors.” 

The integration of the two organizations is a challenge, admitted Kretzinger. Sharing information is key to care coordination. WesleyLife recently transitioned to PointClickCare, an electronic health records software, which was already being used by Genesis. “The timing was perfect,” said Kretzinger.   

Culture is a bigger issue, according to Kretzinger. “The importance of the cultural match cannot be underestimated,” he said.  

WesleyLife and Genesis share many of the same values. They are both performance driven, transparent and concerned about the health and wellbeing of customers as well as employees. Both groups are market leaders with good local reputations.  

The partnership was recently highlighted at the American Hospital Association meeting where WesleyLife and Genesis co-presented a program on their new venture. Asked about the potential of other partnerships that can leverage the social determinants of health, Kretzinger said, “We are an example of how that can happen.”